A major theme of the holiday season is “giving.” Some people give gifts; some give time, love and compassion - but for three Bay Pines VA employees “giving” this year meant saving a life and giving a Veteran another chance to spend the holiday season with his family.
On Dec. 17, after a normal workday at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, Dr. Yolanda Otero, and her husband Registered Nurse Oussam Saidi loaded into their car and started their routine trip home.
About three miles from the medical center, the trip became anything but routine as the Bay Pines VA employees noticed a woman frantically screaming for help outside a stopped vehicle near the parking lot entrance of a busy department store.
“We knew something was terribly wrong,” said Saidi describing the scene. “My first thought, or instinct, was to stop the car as quickly as possible and see what was going on.”
Upon arriving on the scene, Otero and Saidi immediately observed an elderly man slouched over the steering wheel in the parked car. The woman, Delorise Faye Ray, briefly described that her husband 81-year-old Vernon Ray, a Marine Corps Veteran, became unconscious on the way home from a disability evaluation at the medical center. She told the concerned VA employees that she had dialed 911 and more help was on the way.
“As soon as we understood the situation, we knew we had to act quickly,” said Saidi. “Mr. Ray wasn’t breathing and had a very faint, abnormal pulse…he was in cardiac arrest…so we pulled him out of the car onto the ground and started CPR.”
Just seconds later, more helped arrived. First, a St. Petersburg Police Officer armed with an Automatic External Defibrillator, and then Sonja Ksiazkiewicz, another registered nurse with the Bay Pines VA.
Ksiazkiewicz, a longtime colleague of Saidi, took on the role of emotional support for Mrs. Ray as the ad hoc team stabilized the Veteran.
“I feel like we were all there for a reason,” said Ksiazkiewicz. “I feel like we were meant to be there to save his life and to make sure that he could enjoy the holiday with his family.”
Shortly after Mr. Ray was stabilized, Emergency Medical Services arrived on the scene and transported the Veteran and his wife back to the medical center for emergency care. Ksiazkiewicz stayed with Mrs. Ray at the medical center until family arrived.
“Everything happened so quickly,” said Ms. Ray reflecting on the event from outside her husband’s room inside the Bay Pines VA’s Medical Intensive Care Unit.
“I am just so grateful that we had angels watching over us that day. Most people would not have stopped to help...every moment we have together is precious, and I will be forever thankful to the people that saved Ray’s life and gave us more time to be together.”
Editor's note: Mr. Vernon Ray served in the Marine Corps from 1950-1955. During his time in the service, he fought in the Korean War and was captured and held as a Prisoner of War for 9.5 months. Shortly after separating from the Marine Corps, he married his wife Delorise. They have been married for 55 years. Mr. Ray is 100-percent service disabled and receives health care services at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, Fla. While he was unable to conduct an interview for this story, he expressed his gratitude for the actions the Bay Pines VA employees took that saved his life.