Deer Park woman, 26, saves dad because she knew CPR, stayed calm
Iliana Rodriguez doesn’t think of herself a life-saving hero.
But that’s what she is to her family, especially her dad, Deer Park resident Jeronimo Rodriguez, 50.
“If it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be alive,” he said.
Rodriguez is recovering from a Feb. 20 heart attack, and Bayshore Hospital medical staff members credit the daughter, 25, with taking action that helped save his life.
“I think she did an awesome job,” said Rodriguez’s attending cardiologist at Bayshore, Dr. Sathish Cayenne.
At about 11:30 p.m. that Tuesday in the family home, Jeronimo Rodriguez had gone to the kitchen complaining of stomach pains.
Iliana Rodriguez said that she and her mother and a younger brother heard a loud noise and rushed in to find her dad clinging to the counter.
“My dad said he felt dizzy, and he had caught himself from falling; so my brother was able to help him to the floor,” Iliana Rodriguez said.
The family members believed he was having a seizure and as they laid him down, Iliana knew that it is important not to restrain or interfere with the seizure.
But when she touched her father, he was very cold.
“I knew then that he wasn’t having a seizure,” she said.
Right away, Iliana checked her father’s pulse.
“I couldn’t find a pulse, or see his stomach or chest rising,” she said.
He was also very pale and purple, “like he wasn’t breathing,” she said.
That memory is fresh, but Iliana still is not sure how she steadied herself to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“I started doing CPR, and sister called 911, and the only reason he was making noise was because I was doing CPR, and I didn’t know if he was breathing,” she said.
A Deer Park Police Department dispatcher helped guide her along as Iliana kept up the CPR.
Deer Park police and firefighters arrived swiftly and took over.
Jeronimo Rodriguez was taken to Bayshore Medical Center, and the family learned he had suffered a heart attack.
One of his main arteries was closed, and one of the responding officers told Iliana that the CPR most likely saved her father’s life.
The value of knowing how and when to perform CPR cannot be overstated, Cayenne said.
“It definitely made an immense difference,” he said, referring to Iliana’s quick response. “Those first minutes (of a heart attack) are critical, and any hesitation in those first few minutes can be the difference between life and death.”
Circulation to Rodriguez’s brain and the rest of his body during the attack would have been compromised without immediate CPR.
“By starting CPR, you do re-establish circulation during that critical period and it makes a difference in surviving and not surviving,” Ceyenne said, “and if it’s a five-minute delay, brain function could be compromised even a patient did survive.”
While Cayenne added that there are exceptions to every situation, in Rodriguez’s case, cognitive function remained intact, and officials believe he will make a full recovery.
At the hospital, the staff had asked who had performed the life-saving CPR.
“It didn’t really click what I had done,” Iliana said.
Cayenne had also asked what had happened, but in the moment and during medical and emergency protocol, he said, it didn’t click for him either, and he says now he didn’t properly acknowledge her efforts at the time.
“I met her in the ER and she was the one who told me she did the CPR, but you know, when people come in because of a heart attack, you quickly interview the family and rush to do the procedure,” he said. I didn’t really applaud her for doing that.”
In retrospect, Cayenne said, it is clear that it was that small window of opportunity - and Iliana’s response - that not only saved Rodriguez’s life but will enable recovery.
“Just jumping on to him at just the right moment when he collapsed, and performing it in the right way made that difference,” he said.
Iliana said CPR is second nature to her. She learned it when she a student at Pasadena High School, where she was a member of Health Occupations Students of America, now called Future Health Professionals, a national career and technical student organization that prepares young people for careers in the health field.
Currently working as a business office coordinator for a mental health agency, Rodriguez is required to train in CPR twice a year to be re-certified. She is planning to enter the nursing program at San Jacinto College to become a registered nurse.
She credits everyone around her for her father’s recovery.
“I feel like everybody responded - the police, fire department - we all reacted and did what we had to do at that moment, in that situation,” she said.
But when Iliana thinks of her own role in her father’s recovery, it still hasn’t sunk in, she said. She gets emotional and her voice breaks softly as she goes through the timeline of that night and relives all the things going through her mind at the time.
‘GLAD I DIDN’T FREEZE’
“It came naturally and I’m just glad I didn’t freeze,” she said, “but I was just thinking that my dad’s life was in my hands.
“No one in the family knew how to do it. It was just me, and I was thinking that maybe it wasn’t going to be enough.”
It’s one thing, said Cayenne, to know CPR and another to be able to act when it matters most.
“Most of us panic, especially when it’s a family member and we’re not sure what to do,” Cayenne said. “For a young girl like her to have her senses and to say ‘I know CPR and this is where I need to do it,’ those things really need to click. It’s hard (to act), whether you are an expert in the field or a layman, and so I really applaud her judgement because it’s that judgement and that instinct to do something instantaneously . . . and not too many of us would be able to do it, even if we know CPR.”
Iliana doesn’t know where that strength came from.
“When I’m training I get tired, but I think God gave me the strength to keep on going,” she said.
Her father is home.
He became emotional, she said, when they told him what she had done. She’s grateful to her HOSA background, and wishes all students were required to learn how to save a life.
“Because of CPR, my dad is still here,” she said. “It’s something you never want to have to use, and people always think that it’s never going to happen to them and they won’t need to do it. My dad is proof that it makes a big difference. He’s going to be OK.”
“I think of her as my personal hero,” Jeronimo Rodriguez said of his daughter. “She gave me a second chance at life.”