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Man thanks first responders for saving his life

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Roberto Gonzales visits the fire station Wednesday to thank the firefighters and dispatchers who worked to save his life Feb. 3 when suffered cardiac arrest. Pictured, from left, are: Jason Evans, Roswell Fire Department lieutenant; Julian Grado, Roswell Fire Department driver; Gonzales and his wife Maria Louisa DeLao Mendez; Jordan Barwick, Roswell Fire Department firefighter; and Terri Sykes and Kelly McKenna, dispatchers with the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center, at the RFD’s Station 1 on South Richardson Avenue Wednesday morning. (Alex Ross Photo)

A little more than a week after he went into cardiac arrest and nearly died, a man visited the Roswell Fire Department to express his gratitude to the very people who helped give him a second chance at life.

Roberto Gonzales, 36 — a roofer who lives in Roswell — and his wife Maria Louisa DeLao Mendez shook the hands with and thanked the three people who rushed to the scene to revive him: firefighter Jordan Barwick; Julian Grado, Roswell Fire Department driver; and Jason Evans, Roswell Fire Department lieutenant; as well as Terri Sykes and Keli McKenna, dispatchers.

Because Gonzales and his wife do not speak English, they were accompanied by an interpreter on their visit.

Gonzales said that before that fateful day early on the morning of Feb. 4, he said that he never thought people would work so hard to save his life or give their lives for him.

Gonzales himself said he remembers little about what actually happened that morning when he went into cardiac arrest at his 900 block North Atkinson Avenue residence.

Mendez said she woke up at 3:45 a.m. and heard Gonzales, who had been sleeping, say something while they were in bed, before then opening his arms and falling back. She heard him breathing really hard and tried to move him, but to no avail.

Mendez said she told her son who lives next door to call 911 as she performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Gonzales. He appeared to already be dead at the time, but Mendez said she still felt the need to try and save him.

The call from Gonzales’ son came into the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center at about 4 a.m., according to Sykes, a longtime emergency telecommunications dispatcher.

“It is kind of a wake-up call because it is kind of slow about that time,” Sykes said. As Sykes remained on the phone, McKenna got the units en route.

Barwick, Grado and Evans rushed to the scene, where they performed CPR and administered life-saving medications to Gonzales. He was then transported to a local hospital.

Gonzales remained in a coma and did not wake up until the morning of Feb. 6. He said during that time he just remembers a dream he had where he saw his daughter-in-law who is pregnant. In the dream, he touched her stomach and saw the baby. He added that he also saw a white light and encountered his grandparents who told him “it was not his time.” Gonzales then woke up.

For Barwick — who was with the department for a few months — Gonzales is the first life he saved, something that he said is a gratifying experience.

“Part of the reason I wanted to get into the fire department was to help save people, so it’s pretty cool to actually get to do it,” he said.

Eric Mann, Emergency Medical Services Chief with the department, said a misperception exists among the public who believe being a firefighter is typically about battling tall flames and pulling people from raging structure fires.

In reality, though, it’s situations like Gonzales’ that constitute most of the calls the department receives. Last year, the department responded to 9,000 calls for Emergency Medical Services.

“I don’t want people to think all we do is fight fire — 89 percent of calls are EMS and we train hard on the cardiac stuff because of this,” Mann said.

Gonzales said he is feeling fine, though his body aches. He is out of the hospital, but Gonzales said his doctor says he still has not recovered enough to the point that it is safe to return to work.

For Gonzales, though, that is fine. He said that he used to work on roofing two or three houses a day, but that fateful Sunday morning has changed him.

Gonzales said he realizes now he was working too hard, something that likely aggravated his health. He now realizes he has to be more careful because he has to think about his health and his family. Gonzales said he will not forget the first responders who saved his life, and if there is anything he can do to help them one day, he will be glad to do it.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.