Leia Martinez, Survivor
It was an eventful March day at Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio, Texas when Leia Isabella Martinez was born. Her first name means “delicate daughter of the heavens”, and this poetic description fits her to a T.
Raquel and her husband, Beto, weren’t planning to start their family quite yet. “Leia wasn’t planned,” Raquel shares. “She was a honeymoon baby, but we were both very excited when we found out.” With a due date in April, Raquel worked her 60-hour a week restaurant management job until February, when occasional contractions prompted a full bed rest order from her doctor.
Raquel’s last scheduled doctor’s appointment was in mid-March where she found out that she had developed gestational diabetes. The next night, Raquel was planning to spend at her grandma’s, but during the day she realized something was happening, Rachel says. “My parents came over and said my water broke. I didn’t think that was possible since it was so early.” At the hospital, however, her parents’ assessment was confirmed.
The staff kept Raquel’s doctor updated by phone; he would come in when it was time for the delivery. Shortly after midnight he gave an order to induce Raquel as the baby hadn’t yet moved into the birth canal. Twelve more hours…nothing. At noon, still no baby. “And then all of a sudden,” Raquel says, “she was coming.” The doctor came in. The delivery progressed, but very, very slowly. The doctor tried suctioning the baby out twice to no avail. “Finally I was able to push her head out,” Raquel says, “and then everyone started panicking.” Multiple medical staff climbed onto the bed and put pressure on Raquel’s abdomen. “They said they had to get the baby out right away. It was hard to breathe, and I felt like I was going to faint.”
Leia was delivered with the assistance of a second doctor, who laid the newborn on Raquel’s belly. She knew something was wrong when her baby didn’t cry. “They cut the umbilical cord and took her away,” she says. “I overheard ‘no pulse’ and ‘very weak heartbeat’. Then I heard ‘Clear!’ and I knew they were using the paddles on her.”
Raquel was informed that Leia was nearly stillborn and currently in extremely critical condition. She required a ventilator and was having seizures. Doctors said that if she did survive, she might have seizures for the rest of her life. In addition, her left arm was broken, and she had a brachial plexus injury on her right side. Val Verde doesn’t have a neonatal intensive care unit, so Leia would be flown to Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, and she needed to get there as soon as possible.
The Methodist AirCare specialty team, with Methodist AirCare providing the pilot and safety officer, and Methodist Healthcare providing the nurse and respiratory
therapist, arrived quickly for the transport. The special medically-equipped helicopter was piloted by Bill Soeth, with Flight Nurse Jessica Schroder on board acting as Safety Officer. Completing the team were two of Methodist Children’s neonatal staff: Registered Nurse Mildred Moczygemba and Respiratory Therapist Ali Soujoudi.
Jessica Schroder has been with Methodist AirCare for five years. “Our teams are very capable,” she states. “On these team flights, one of us goes as a Safety Officer to make sure that all the operational needs of the hospital staff are met. They are trained to operate independently in the aircraft, but we are there to facilitate the transport, which allows them to focus.”
Upon arrival in San Antonio, the team went to Leia first, then to Raquel. RN Mildred Moczygemba says, “We had been informed that the baby was large and that it was a very difficult delivery. I took one look at the baby and knew immediately that she was in trouble.” Mildred is quick to praise Val Verde’s delivery team, however. “They did a really good job of resuscitating Leia and cooling her. I gave her phenobarbital for the seizures and bicarbonate, and we got her ready for transport.”
Raquel remembers the flight team’s arrival. “They came into the room, and they were really sweet. They gave me the comforting words I needed,” she says. “They gave me hope.”
Respiratory Therapist Ali Soujoudi loves his job. “For me, this work is a passion. I want to give the patient everything I can. Regarding the hybrid flight team Ali says, “Everybody on these teams presents themselves very professionally. They give information to family members in a way that makes it easy to understand. When families see all this, they develop a sense of trust. I have great admiration and respect for everyone at Methodist AirCare. They are part of the family. They are so knowledgeable, so skilled and proficient, and we all have the same goal. It’s always about the patient.
Raquel and Beto were given a few minutes with their daughter prior to transport. Though it was a traumatic situation to have their newborn taken away so soon after birth, they were just grateful that she was alive and that she would soon receive the critical care she needed.
Mildred shares what she remembers most about meeting Raquel. “They brought her in a wheelchair. I told her about the transport and the whole process, and I also gave her a warning that her baby was gravely ill. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I know that you will do the very best that you can for her.’ I’ll never forget that.”
It was time for the team to get Leia on board for the 150-mile flight to the hospital. “They said they would call me when they got there,” Raquel shares. “They told me to rest and recover so that I could come be with her.”
Raquel made it to San Antonio the next day. Although Leia was receiving the best possible care, doctors were not optimistic. “They said I shouldn’t get my hopes up, that she was only alive because she was on a ventilator. That was hard. After a few days, I started going into a depression. I was getting more and more attached to my baby.”
Thankfully, soon thereafter, Leia made huge progress: she no longer needed the ventilator. Raquel shares that Leia’s flight team continued to offer support. “They really cared about her progress. They would check on her, and then they would visit me and tell me how well she was doing. I know they didn’t have to do this, but they did. It meant so much to me.”
Says Mildred, “I saw the baby every day that I worked at the hospital, and I’d check on her mom, too.” Mildred has been a nurse for 17 years, the last 13 in NICU. “I love my job so much!” she says. “It’s what I always wanted to do.”
Two days before her original due date, Raquel and Beto’s delicate daughter of the heavens was sent home. The NICU staff prepared the new parents as best they could, giving them a bounty of information and recommendations. “They even made us learn how to perform CPR on an infant before they would release Leia,” Raquel says.
Experiences like this are a joy for Ali, who says he’s grateful for the opportunity to meet so many different people. “When people bring their children here,” he says, “it’s not because they want to be here. They don’t want to be here. When I see the stress and anxiety on their faces, honestly, I put myself in their place. I want to give them comfort, and then I do my job. It’s just so great when you see them leaving the facility smiling.”
Leia celebrates another day with loving dad, Beto, and grateful mom, Raquel.
Seven months later, the report on Leia is optimistic. She no longer needs regular doctors’ appointments. “We will probably always need developmental help for Leia.
It’s hard to tell exactly what damage was done. She’s smart, though. She sits up. She sleeps through the night. She says ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. She’s pretty much just all smiles.” Raquel chuckles. “She’s a total drama queen, too. She throws fake tantrums. But it’s understandable. She’s an only baby, so she gets everything she wants.”
Thinking back on all that’s happened, Raquel shares, “Something like this really makes you appreciate things. If you’re healthy, don’t take it for granted. If your baby’s healthy, don’t take it for granted. Know what a blessing those things are.”
Leia was transported by Methodist AirCare 1 in San Antonio, TX. Her flight teams were: Methodist AirCare Team: Pilot Bill Soeth; Safety Officer Jessica Schroder. Methodist Children’s Hospital Neonatal Team: Registered Nurse Mildred Moczygemba; Respiratory Therapist Ali Soujoudi.
John Briner, Survivor
I never imagined that I’d be using this service,” says John Briner of his Cal-Ore Life Flight Membership. John and his wife Debi live in Gasquet, a tiny town in the northwestern corner of California. Just before Christmas, John had heart surgery. Although the surgery went as planned, he was advised that he might need defibrillation—“the paddles”—down the road. Defibrillation is used to restore normal heart rhythm in patients who go into A-fib, a common heart rhythm disorder.
On January 6, John knew something was wrong. He didn’t panic; he got in his car and drove to his cardiologist in Medford, Oregon—90 minutes away. Unfortunately, his doctor wasn’t at the hospital that day. “I couldn’t get what I needed, so I drove home,” John says. “I was feeling really bad. I thought maybe I was having a heart attack, so I asked my wife to take me to the hospital.”
“It was a breath of fresh air when Cal-Ore showed up to fly me away,” John says. “I was really impressed with the crew’s professionalism, the way they handled the whole situation.”
Debi agrees. “The flight crew put me at ease. They were so sweet and calming, so professional. They walked in, calmed John down and got him out of there. And I got to go on the flight with him. They put me right up front with the pilot! It was a smooth ride, and the flight crew kept me informed the whole time.”
“Before I knew it we were in Napa,” John remembers. “Everything went smoothly. There was an ambulance waiting to take me to Napa Valley Heart Institute. They did an electrical conversion of my heart, and I’ve been fine ever since.”
John’s voice is filled with gratitude and emotion as he shares his new outlook on life. “Something like this makes you do a life audit. I just appreciate being on this side of this of the grass. I appreciate my kids, my wife, everybody. I look at them differently.”
“It’s nice to know the Cal-Ore folks are out there,” John says. “And for the price, you can’t beat a membership. After my transport, I went to the website and made a comment, and I actually physically went to the Cal-Ore office.”
John was flown to needed care aboard Cal-Ore’s Piper Cheyenne aircraft. John was flown to needed care aboard Cal-Ore’s Piper Cheyenne aircraft.
So what’s next for the Briners? “This boy’s retiring,” says John, who has put in 34 years with the Department of Corrections, having worked at both Salinas Valley (Soledad) and Pelican Bay State Prisons. “And I have plans. I’m not going to be bored. I just had my first grandchild (Gina’s son Jacob was born on April 6), and I’m going to build a motorcycle.”
Debi laughs. “When we were first married, he kept the motorcycle in the house. Now we have a garage, so he can work in there.” John is perfectly happy with Debi’s rule. John is perfectly happy with Debi. “We’ve been married for 30 years,” he says. “I met the one I’m supposed to be with. We’re still growing together, so I figure the adventure’s not over.”
Cal-Ore is privileged to have been a part of John’s success story and wishes the Briner family many happy adventures.
John was flown by Cal-Ore Life Flight team out of Crescent City, CA including Pilot Rick Susavilla and Flight Nurse Jeannette Murray.
Al Mires, Survivor
Al and Shelley Mires and their two sons live in Shingletown, California, a small Shasta County town just below Mount Lassen. They own a music store in nearby Palo Cedro, and Al also co-owns a coffee shop. In addition to repairing instruments and giving music lessons, Al enjoys playing his guitar.
Not too long ago, Jennifer Hart stopped at that coffee shop for a bite to eat. When Al delivered Jennifer’s food, a red REACH folder caught his eye. Jennifer is a Membership Sales Manager serving Redding and the surrounding areas. She educates these communities about the REACH for Life air ambulance membership program. Turns out Al had just returned to work following a medical emergency that included a timely ride in a red helicopter. When Al found out I worked for REACH, he said that he had just been transported and emphasized how impressed he was with the flight crew. Then he told me his whole story.”
“At age 51, I had gone through my whole life relatively unscathed,” Al states. “I had never even had an IV or been hospitalized. Then I found myself in an emergency situation where my life was threatened.”
Quite some time ago, Al started having difficulty swallowing food. The problem worsened until even swallowing liquids was problematic. “I thought I had a grip on it,” he says, “but one day I took a quick bite of lunch, and the food got stuck. I drank water to help get it down. Well, I swallowed so hard that I ripped a 4 1/2” hole in my esophagus.”
Our REACH 5 team in Redding received a call from Shasta Regional Medical Center regarding a patient who needed emergency esophageal repair ASAP. The crew, Pilot Pete Ortiz and Flight Nurses Terri Debruler and Gary Amundson, responded immediately.
Al knew he was in trouble. “I was hemorrhaging blood when I walked into the ER,” he says, “and they were pretty immediate in deciding I needed to be flown to UC Davis.”
Al says the REACH crew’s arrival put his mind at ease. “First of all, Terri comes in the room and she has the flight suit on, so she looks like she’s ready for business.
That in itself was reassuring. And she had a smile on her face, too. It was a nice balance.” He adds, “I’m a bit of a control freak. It was a great feeling when they showed up and I could just relax. I felt like somebody had my back.”
Shelley hoped to fly along, but there wasn’t room on the helicopter. “They were so great about communicating with my wife about what was going on.” Al recalls. “Terri got her cell number and told her they’d call the minute we touched down. It’s those little things that tell you these people have an aptitude for their job and should be doing the job they’re doing.”
Once onboard, Al focused on staying awake and calm. “Terri and Gary were at my side the whole time, very concerned and compassionate, and Pete flew the chopper so gently I thought I was in a Cadillac,” Al relates. “Their professionalism and skills went above and beyond the call of duty and continued until I was in the hands of the ICU folks.”
The UC Davis team, knowing surgery might be required, called in a doctor with both gastrointestinal and cardiac knowledge. “It’s 1:32 in the morning or something,” Al says, “and I’m in a fix. They got a hold of this doctor and I thought, ‘This lady is likely going to save my life. And it’s two in the morning on a Friday. And this is probably not her favorite sport.’ But she didn’t waste any time; in fact, she grabbed the gurney and carted me to the room herself!”
The doctor’s exploration revealed that the tear had started clotting, making surgery unnecessary. Al spent four days in the hospital healing, plus another week at home before returning to work. Looking back, Al says this experience hasn’t changed him, but he is definitely aware of how much he appreciates his life and his family.
Al was flown by the REACH 5 team in Redding, CA: Pilot Pete Ortiz, Flight Nurses Terri Debruler and Gary Amundson.