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Airman saves family member’s life at Christmas

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Harp
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

When life and death hung in the balance on Christmas day, Master Sgt. Kenneth Rivera-Ithier was the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

“The only thing that came into my head was, I if don't act right now, he's gonna die,” said Rivera-Ithier.

While visiting his wife’s family in New Jersey for the holidays, Rivera-Ithier was awakened from a Christmas afternoon nap to the sound of panic around him. In that waking moment, he could hear his wife’s cousin wheezing and then began to see him convulse. Rivera-Ithier’s years of experience with security forces and emergency response, immediately kicked into action.

Rivera-Ithier said he recognized his wife’s cousin was having a seizure and moved him to the floor to help protect him. It was at that moment he realized the victim had stopped breathing. Rivera-Ithier checked his pulse and then began to administer CPR. Shortly after administering CPR, the victim gasped for air and Rivera-Ithier said he placed him in a seated position so he could continue to breathe. He monitored the victim’s status and used his command presence to delegate responsibilities to other family members in preparation for the arrival of paramedics.

In a situation like this, when seconds matter, Rivera-Ithier’s ability to respond to the emergency in a calm and coordinated manner helped save his family member’s life.

As a drill-status guardsman, Rivera-Ithier serves as a Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element member with the 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron and a Tactical Combat Casualty Care instructor for the 193rd Special Operations Wing. Full time, he is a member of the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C. He credits his medical training from the DAGRE and TCCC programs for his ability to recognize the victim’s symptoms and respond appropriately.

The TCCC training focuses primarily on bleeding and wounds from combat. However, as part of the TCCC instructor course, Rivera-Ithier said they also included specialized training for seizures. This training was essential in helping him during this emergency, and he now wants to use his experience to help develop more training in the future.

“I told my wife, I'm just blessed that I was there,” said Rivera-Ithier. “I was able to identify it and go forward from there. (The paramedics) said if he would have been by himself, he would have passed away.”

Rivera-Ithier said his wife and the paramedics asked how he was able to stay calm in the moment of crisis. He said his ability to respond so easily was helped because it was not his direct family member. Everyone responds to emergencies differently and when you have someone you love in need of help, that fear of losing them can overwhelm your ability to react rationally, he said. That slight bit of disconnect gave him an edge to stay focused and on task.

“There’s no better testament to the effectiveness of our training and the readiness of our Airmen than the quick response demonstrated by Master Sgt. Rivera-Ithier,” said Lt. Col. Kathleen Fabrizi, 193rd SOSFS commander. “Regardless of whether we are at home or in contested security environments around the world, when seconds count, our training needs to take over and guide the situation to bring it to the best resolution possible.”

Rivera-Ithier says he sees himself as a bit of a “prepper,” to the extent that he keeps equipment and resources nearby in the event of an emergency. In this scenario, however, he was not able to access any of his tools. His advice in an emergency is to be flexible. “Know how to utilize your resources even when you don’t have resources,” he said. “You also have to establish a command presence when you’re treating someone, have other people working for you while you’re treating that person.”

Rivera-Ithier said he and his wife are still coping from the event; they both find themselves haunted by the wheezing sound they heard. “If I hear something close to that noise, it automatically puts me back into that situation,” he said. “My wife tells me that too, when we're sleeping. She'll wake up and say she can hear him still. And I say, we gotta let it go.” Rivera-Ithier said he finds comfort in talking about what happened, whether it’s with his wife, leadership or friends, and thinks sharing his experience is an important part of processing and learning from the event.

“We’re proud of Master Sgt. Rivera-Ithier and his service to the community, state and nation as a member of the 193rd SOSFS,” said Fabrizi