One afternoon late in June, Cheryl Cardoza noticed a plume of dust rising above the road as she drove along Avenue 12 in Madera County. She was headed home from running some errands on her first day of vacation.
Dust in the summer generally suggests that farmers are working in the almond, peach, or pistachio groves in the area. Instead of farm machinery, however, she came upon a debris field of auto body parts – glass, fenders, bumpers – from a three-vehicle accident that involved a head-on collision. One person died, another suffered a severed arm. Three others escaped with minor injuries.
Cardoza is the compliance officer for the Veterans Home of California-Fresno and the seven other homes in CalVet’s system of health care. She immediately stopped to help, joined an off-duty nurse and two men who also happened to be at the scene. Others who came upon the accident stayed clear and watched, she said. Cardoza had no time for panic or fear, no time to question herself, no time to do anything other than to act. The CPR and first-aid skills she honed through classes over the years at the Fresno Veterans Home kicked in and enabled her to focus on assisting the injured.
“Without the training I received, I would have been one of the people on the sidelines,” Cardoza said. “I thank everybody who provided the training for that.”
Cardoza first saw a young woman crying while talking on a cell phone, but appeared to be unhurt. She saw the two men pull a mom and two boys out of the SUV that was struck head-on and flipped over. She then went to the man lying in the road. She found no pulse or sign of life.
He drove the car that hit the other two vehicles. His passenger, a woman, was the one who lost an arm. Neither wore seatbelts, and the CHP reported that alcohol or drugs were likely a factor.
“I found a blanket and covered him,” Cardoza said. “I knew he’d passed.”
The nurse then summoned Cardoza to help the woman with the severed arm, and she helped staunch the bleeding.
Next, she went to aid the mom and her two young boys, all of whom had minor injuries. She took them into an orchard, where they waited in the shade for the EMTs to reach them.
Lastly, “I went to the young lady who’d been crying to make sure she wasn’t in shock,” Cardoza said.
The ambulance and paramedics soon arrived and took over the scene. They helicoptered the deceased man to the hospital in an unsuccessful attempt to revive him. They also transported the woman who lost her arm. Cardoza later learned doctors were unable to reattach it. The others – the mom and two sons – went to a hospital, where they were treated and released.
Cardoza is known as a pragmatist and problem solver who has helped the eight Veterans Homes to improve their quality of care ratings. She prides herself for being prepared for any situation that might arise.
“In the CPR and first aid classes, I always practiced like it was the real thing,” said Cardoza, who has worked at the Fresno Home since it opened in 2013. “I tell my staff that, too – that when you practice like its real, it becomes second nature.”
Consequently, how she responded in an emergency situation astonished no one at CalVet.
“Her actions during the accident are not surprising because she’s a seasoned professional who will respond and think instantly during a crisis,” said Manny Dumangas, director of Long Term Care for the Veterans Homes of California system of health care. “Cheryl truly represents CalVet’s mission of caring for and serving our veterans. Her actions outside CalVet is a true testament of her passion as a public servant and compassion to provide care to those in need.”
Thank you for this service, Cheryl Cardoza. A cool head that knows something about triage is needed more often than we would want it to be needed. Gratitude from me to you.
Gives me shivers! I’m honored to work with Cheryl and will remember her advice at my next training!