MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
It was chaotic. People were screaming. There was smoke coming out of the large sports utility vehicle that was smashed against a tree at the in front of a forest. A frantic woman clutching a child panics and cries for help near the vehicle.
Miraculously, three Moody Air Force Base Airmen with life-saving medical knowledge were in the traffic caused by the accident and rushed in to help.
“I ran into the woods and on the ground was this young two-year-old, just laying in the wooded area, struggling to breathe,” said Capt. Lakeatta Tonge, 23d Medical Group education and training flight commander. “As a mother it was gut-wrenching. We are in the middle of nowhere and his injuries were very significant … there is very little I can do in a field with no equipment.”
Tonge immediately began assessing the child’s injuries.
“I went down to him and at that time all I could see was me and this baby,” said Tonge, a labor and delivery nurse by trade. “I realized his left leg was amputated and as I’m taking off my belt to stop the bleeding, another NCO shows up.”
Tech. Sgt. Jose Obregon, 347th Operations Support Squadron independent medical technician, saw the uncontrolled bleeding and told Tonge he had a tourniquet in his car.
As an IDMT and Tactical Combat Casualty Care instructor, Obregon is knowledgeable about combat casualty training; designed to prevent him from getting ‘tunnel vision’, which could inhibit him from noticing other wounds.
“We have a method to assess and treat the most life-threatening injury first and that’s what made me do a quick body sweep,” Obregon said. “I quickly put a tourniquet on and began taking care of the breathing.”
At that time Staff Sgt. Rickey Usinger, 23rd Maintenance Operations Flight auxiliary instructor, who teaches basic, life-support courses like self aid buddy care and CPR, arrived on scene.
“As I got into the woods I announced ‘I’m here and CPR qualified what do you need me to do’,” Usinger said. “They were fitting the tourniquet on his limb and I performed the jaw-thrust technique to open his airway.”
Usinger also provided a one-way mouth barrier so Obregon could begin respirations, while Tonge assisted by making sure the air was entering the child’s lungs.
“At the time I honestly couldn’t tell if my breathing was good because the baby was so small that I couldn’t see the chest rising and falling,” Obregon added. “So, she gave me clarification as to whether my breaths were good or not.”
They all suspected the child had a traumatic brain injury because of the mechanism of injury. After removing the clothing, they found the child also had a fractured clavicle with internal bleeding and a shattered humerus.
“One of the first responders was on his radio trying to get the nearest hospital to respond,” Tonge added. “They came across the radio saying they wouldn’t be able to get to us within the next 15 minutes because they were on another call.
“At that time we cared for the baby for about 20 minutes,” Obregon said. “Just us, in the forest, waiting on emergency services to arrive. During my second deployment I was exposed to a lot of mass casualties, but nothing like in a forest it’s you with this patient and you’re sitting there 20 minutes with what you got.”
As they continued treatment, the child began to respond and was soon airlifted to the University of Florida Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Obregon credits the fundamentals of his training for giving him the ability to help.
“Simple things helped save that child’s life, like knowing how to correctly use a tourniquet, opening an airway and knowing that this patient is going to be in a better situation as opposed to me not being there,” Obregon added. “I’m just glad I was there. I know there was nowhere else in the world that I needed to be except right there.”
Usinger expressed his pride in being able to help someone in need.
“I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Usinger added. “If I was in (those) woods I would hope and pray that someone would come and help me. If I can’t do it for someone else, how can I expect that for me or my family.”
Tonge expressed her pride in their abilities as military members to adapt and trust one another in a time of crisis.
“Well, that’s what we’re trained to do,” Tonge said. “As military medics when we deploy, when we go to unknown areas you don’t know your team but I knew we were trained, so I trusted the training.”