It was a hot, September day at the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens when a face painting artist collapsed in front of the tiger enclosure. Guest Support Specialists Jiovanni Puentes and Daniela Perez Herrera quickly responded and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while John Toreno called 911 and brought an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to the scene. Their quick actions saved the woman's life.
On February 10, the South Florida Region of the American Red Cross awarded Jiovanni Puentes and Melissa Llerena with the Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders and Daniela Perez Herrera and John Toreno with Certificates of Extraordinary Personal Action. These awards are bestowed upon individuals who use lifesaving skills during an emergency to save or sustain a life.
At the award ceremony, Deborah Koch, executive director of The Greater Miami and The Keys Chapter of the American Red Cross, shared that, "Emergencies can happen at any time like in the grocery store, at a family gathering, at the community pool or Zoo, even at your own home. But regardless of when and where they occur, emergency situations usually have one thing in common, a crowd of people standing around, staring at a victim, wondering who should act and trying to remember what to do." Debbie continued, "That is until a hero emerges from the crowd. In my experience with the American Red Cross, I've learned that heroes, brave people willing to step forward and help a loved one or a stranger during their greatest time of need, are all around us. But I've also learned that these individuals are not common because to act quickly and decisively during a crisis takes a level of courage reserved only for a chosen few like our honorees, John Toreno, Daniela Perez Herrera, Jiovanni Puentes, and Melissa Llerena."
When the face painter arrived that September afternoon, she was being escorted to a birthday party by the Zoo's event staff. Within a few minutes of arrival, she collapsed. A call was made to the Zoo's base requesting assistance, and Jiovanni Puentes, John Toreno, and Daniela Perez Herrera quickly arrived at the scene. The woman was in cardiac arrest, and a pulse could not be detected. A call to 911 was made for Fire Rescue by Daniela, who then instructed John Toreno to bring the AED to help resuscitate the victim. After delivering the AED, John escorted Fire Rescue through 5,000 Zoo visitors to the scene of the collapsed woman.
After CPR was performed, the application of the AED was successful in restoring a pulse. Once Fire Rescue arrived on the scene, they took over and transported the individual to the hospital but not before sharing what a fantastic job the Zoo Miami staff did in helping to save the woman's life.
The face painting artist remained in the hospital for several days but was stabilized. The Zoo staff "worked together like a finely tuned machine in handling every aspect of this emergency, and their actions resulted in saving the life of this woman," shared Ron Magill, wildlife expert, photographer, and communications director of the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens.
"The fact that we were able to do this together with teamwork and communication means a lot. There is no greater honor than saving someone's life. It's meaningful," said Jiovanni Puentes after receiving the award. Jiovanni has worked at the Zoo for over two years and is trained to act in emergencies; however, this is the first time in the history of Zoo Miami that a life was saved using CPR.
Melissa Llerena, Guest Support Specialist Supervisor/Security, has worked at Zoo Miami for over 15 years. Three years ago, she became a Red Cross instructor and is currently teaching lifesaving skills to her colleagues at the Zoo. The Zoo hopes to ensure that all staff members, whether in contact with people or animals, are trained and able to act quickly to save or sustain a life in emergency situations. "Anyone can help in these kinds of situations as long as you know the basics on how to save a life," said Melissa.
All four recipients were honored at a ceremony attended by family, friends, colleagues, and Red Cross staff. While presenting the award, Deborah Koch congratulated the heroes and thanked them for their "bravery and quick thinking that saved the woman's life. Through teamwork, training, and courage, you embody the spirit of the Red Cross by using action to help alleviate human suffering in the face of an emergency. You are now among a very special group of people worldwide who have received this honor."
Lifesaving Awards program
The Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders is awarded to Red Cross-trained first responders and healthcare professionals acting while on duty. The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is awarded to individuals and teams who are not Red Cross-trained but demonstrate skills and knowledge taught by the American Red Cross in "extraordinary" cases. These are two of three awards given as part of the Red Cross Lifesaving Awards program. To nominate and recognize a person or group who has taken action to save or sustain a life, visit LifesavingAwards.org.
Written by Winnie Tan and Stephanie Wesseling, American Red Cross Public Affairs