Citizen Airman's lifesaving actions unknowingly impacts fellow reservist’s family
By Capt. Joe Simms, 927th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published January 10, 2017
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A 39-year-old man is rushed to Mease Countryside Hospital, Clearwater Florida, in critical condition after going into cardiac arrest. Upon arrival, the doctors sedate him as the family waits anxiously at his bedside, hoping for any positive signs.
Every night at 7 p.m. the family notices a quiet professional coming on shift. Her detailed and meticulous nature settles their nerves, and kind words provided them comfort.
“There was a scare early one morning,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shane Smith, 920th Operations Group, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. “This young nurse quickly assessed the situation, took control and solved the problem while continuing to calm and assure me, for which I was humbly grateful.”
What Chief Smith didn’t realize at the time, was another Air Force Reservist probably saved his brother’s life that morning.
“I wanted to learn more about this nurse so I could thank her for her outstanding professionalism and calming presence,” Smith said. “To my surprise, or not, this young lady was a supply technician with the 927th Logistics Readiness Squadron at MacDill.”
Senior Airman Julimar Fuentes performed her duties that day just as she has every day for the past two years as a registered nurse. Her dedication and professionalism are a product of her upbringing, she says, as she and her family emigrated here from Venezuela.
“My family and I came to Orlando when I was 15 and by the time I was 21 I knew I wanted to help people in some way but I didn’t know what route I wanted to take,” Fuentes said. “Then a friend mentioned the Air Force and at first, I thought I didn’t have the physical abilities to make it in the Air Force.”
“But that’s what’s great about the Air Force,” she continued. “You have so many other skills you must use to succeed. You can’t only be physically strong, you have to be strong emotionally and intellectually, so the Air Force brought out skills I didn’t know I had back then.”
As the chief’s brother was taken from the emergency room he was placed under the care of Fuentes, a critical care nurse. Due to his critical condition he was Fuentes’s only patient which allowed her to spend more time monitoring his condition and interacting with the family.
“I looked at the patient and I looked at the family and I put myself in their shoes,” Fuentes said. “My main focus was the patient but I was also attending to the family. For some reason I was just drawn to them.”
According to Fuentes, working in a highly stressful field such as critical care can lead to exhaustion and burnout. There are also times that may make you question if putting in the long hours, exposing yourself to infectious diseases and staying strong as you see your patients and their families struggle is worth it.
So when the patient recovered enough to speak, and his family called Fuentes into the room to share the moment, it had a profound impact on her.
“The thanks I received definitely reiterated the fact that yes, I am making a difference and yes, what I do is important,” Fuentes said. “Sometimes you forget how you impact people’s lives but when you receive the thanks from the families and the patients, that’s the most rewarding part of the job.”
Shortly after completing her on-the-job training at MacDill AFB, Fuentes was accepted into the nursing program at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, which propelled her on her way to becoming a critical care nurse.
Managing the contents of a warehouse filled with airplane parts may not seem like a logical career to coincide with a nursing career, but according to Fuentes, the experience has been invaluable to her.
“I think if I went through nursing school when I was younger, I don’t think I would have had the discipline to stay with it when things became difficult,” Fuentes said. “The Air Force gave me the discipline and perseverance to succeed and get through the tough times at work and during school.”
Fuentes plans to continue her schooling as she is gaining experience needed to one day enroll in a Master’s degree program to become a nurse anesthetist. She also plans to earn her commission one day, a goal that is well within her reach according to Lt. Col. Meredith Seeley, 927th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander.
“We have so many smart, talented, and amazing Citizen Airmen serving throughout the Tampa Bay community, and Senior Airman Fuentes is a great example,” said Seeley. “Her determination, drive and poise is carried over into everything she does and will continue to drive her to excel in whatever she decides to pursue. “
Thanks to the actions of Fuentes that day, a young man is still alive and a member of her Air Force Reserve family is eternally grateful.
“I’m delighted to say that a after a week in the intensive care unit, and having a defibrillator installed, he’s now back home and resting,” Smith said. “I’m proud to serve alongside her and could only hope that she would be my nurse if I was ever in my brother’s position.”