How a paramedic’s split-second decision may have saved a Parkland student’s life

How a paramedic’s split-second decision may have saved a Parkland student’s life

At the scene of the school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, student Madeleine Wilford was among those in urgent need of medical care. A quick decision by a paramedic may have saved her life


(From left) Doctors Igor Nichiporenko and Evan Boyar, and paramedic Laz Ojeda, recount the efforts to save student Maddy Wilford.
Photo: AFP

As student Madeleine, or Maddy, Wilford lay bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the first responder struggling to keep her alive was faced with a choice.

Lieutenant Laz Ojeda, a US firefighter and paramedic at Coral Springs Fire Department, could follow the rules and rush her to a hospital some 50 kilometres away, where most child patients are supposed to go. Or, he could head for the medical centre Broward Health North, only 20km away from the school.

The decision, he said on Monday, had serious implications. Police officers had already mistakenly believed Maddy was dead before they shook her and discovered she was alive. Her blood pressure was dropping and a lung had collapsed. An officer put on a chest seal to block air from entering her chest, but she needed a surgeon to keep her from drowning in blood.

Maddy, who is short for her age, had been guessed to be 15 years old, but Ojeda wasn’t so sure. He tried to wake her to ask her age. No response. He tried again. Maddy awoke that time. She said she was 17. Broward Health North it was, Ojeda decided, and the ambulance sped towards the team waiting there.

“That decision contributed to saving her life,” Ojeda said, relaying what a doctor later told him.

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Holding back tears

Maddy joined Ojeda at the news conference on Monday, along with her father David and two doctors. “I’d just like to say that I am so grateful to be here. And it wouldn’t be possible without the doctors and first responders and ... all the love that everyone sent,” Maddy said.

Ojeda and Maddy shared an emotional moment on stage with doctors and surgeons who helped save the lives of patients brought in following the shooting on February 14.

The attack by a gunman on the school in Parkland, in the US state of Florida, killed 17 people.

As Ojeda recalled Maddy’s fragile condition at the time, tears streamed from his eyes.

The first responders at the scene were faced with tough decisions.
Photo: AFP

Wilford’s story has been one of the few positive takeaways from the Parkland tragedy. It has also helped shift the public’s view of the emergency response to the shooting.

There was widespread outrage in the US after it was revealed that an armed school police officer did not enter the school as the killings were still taking place. This led to a search into whether other officers also
stayed outside.

The sheriff’s deputy, who has resigned, said on Monday that he believed the shooting was taking place outside the building.

“It’s hard for me to feel anything but gratitude and thanks for the miracle that’s happened with her,” David Wilford, Maddy’s father, said, also choking back tears.

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Against all odds

Maddy has made a miraculous recovery, said Dr Igor Nichiporenko, the trauma surgeon who operated on her. Three surgeries were performed on her in 40 hours.

“She is very lucky,” Nichiporenko said, pointing out the size of the three bullets and the fact that they entered her chest and abdomen. However, he expects her to return to school as early as next week, he said.

Ojeda stressed the collective effort among first responders to get Maddy to a surgeon. Three officers plugged her with the chest seal before carrying her to the casualty collection point. Ojeda said that act was as crucial in saving Maddy’s life as the work of the doctors. “Those officers did the hardest thing,” Ojeda said.

Before Monday’s conference, Ojeda briefly visited Maddy at hospital last Friday while taking in another patient. He said Maddy had been grateful for his efforts.

“And then,” Ojeda said, “we just went back to work.”

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Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
How quick thinking saved a life


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