11:12 AM

‘Hometown Hero’: Hero EMT a Future RN

In Nick of Time, STC Student Saves a Life


STC student and paramedic Erick Ramirez recalls one experience on the job when an overturned truck on the highway carrying a family of five became a race to save a life. For their efforts, Ramirez and his partner on the job became the first Starr County first responders to receive South Texas Health System’s Hometown Heroes award.

On a seemingly ordinary, gray December day, STC student and paramedic Erick Ramirez had no idea that he would be in the right place and time to become a “hometown hero.”

Ramirez and his partner had just gotten on shift when they spotted a giant cloud of dirt on the highway and slowed down. As they came closer, they saw an overturned van alongside a truck that had spun around from a high-speed, T-bone collision.

They pulled over right away. Inside the van, a woman was still wearing her seatbelt and hanging sideways, but she was okay. The same could not be said of the truck carrying a family of five. The father had suffered most of the impact and was pinned to the driver’s seat. His door wouldn’t budge open.

That’s when Ramirez says, “All the training that we’ve gotten throughout school and experience helped as far as being able to function.”

As he assessed the patient, the STC student realized the man was suffering from agonal breathing, gasping for air. Usually, patients like this only have minutes until oxygen depletion starts killing brain cells. Time was running out.

“I honestly thought that he was not going to make it,” recalls Ramirez. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ just in shock. Then, all of a sudden … my mind went blank and started focusing.”

More backup arrived, and once the scene was safe and the other patients stable, Ramirez worked with the fire department to pry the man out of the truck safely while the patient’s wife and three children looked on.

The paramedic loaded the victim into his ambulance and started delivering treatment promptly before taking off for McAllen’s Level II Trauma Center. The patient was admitted right away, and when a CT scan revealed bleeding in his brain, he was taken straight to the operating room.

“I just kept on praying for him,” says Ramirez. “This man needs to live. His family depends on him.”

It would take a few weeks after the incident to find out what happened. The surgeon called Ramirez to let him know the patient was doing a little better but was not expected to be able to eat or do simple things on his own.

But then, a miracle happened. About two weeks later, the same trauma surgeon called again. According to Ramirez, “He’s like, ‘Hey, guess what? The man that we told you was probably not going to be functional? One day, he just woke up like nothing happened to him and walked out.’”

“It’s not about the money — it’s about helping out those in need and giving back to my community.”
EMT Erick Ramirez

The remarkable recovery could be credited to Ramirez's fast action in the “golden hour” — the short window of time when trauma patients are more likely to survive if they receive medical treatment right away.

For Ramirez, the process of seeing a patient go from a brush with death to rejoining his family in good health is the ultimate reward: “That’s why we do what we do.”

For going above and beyond the call of duty, Ramirez and his partner became the first Starr County first responders to receive South Texas Health System’s Hometown Heroes award. It’s an honor, says Ramirez, but the only reward he needs is a safer, healthier community.

“You’re dealing with people’s lives — they depend on you to help them out,” says the hometown hero. “You always want to be prepared for this. I mean, I continue my education … in some way or another … [to] sharpen my skills.”

In fact, Ramirez has been an on-and-off Jaguar studying Allied Health since 2012. After losing his job in the oil fields, he started looking for a calling closer to home. Beginning with Basic EMT classes at STC, Ramirez ended up loving the work so much that he progressed into paramedic training before continuing on to the registered nursing track. Soon, he’ll sit for the NCLEX to obtain his RN license.

“I always felt like I could do more for my patients,” says the future nurse, who looks forward to delivering a higher level of care. His dream is to work in the emergency department or even in the ICU with critical patients.

Ramirez's dedication to his profession is no surprise to his South Texas College professors.

“Erick was an exceptional student,” says Carlos Tello, EMT Program Chair. “Erick demonstrated a lot of passion for the health care profession, and he really did well with his studies.”

And while Ramirez’s story is unique, his career trajectory is typical for Allied Health students, according to Tello. In the EMT program, learners can progress from Basic to Advanced EMT, then finish with Paramedic in about two years. After they earn their associate in Emergency Medical Technology, it opens the door to the RN track, which they can complete in about one more year.

“All of Allied Health has the same prerequisites,” says the professor. “So, it's very convenient for the student to go from our pathway to the RN pathway.”

With demand skyrocketing for health care providers nationwide, and with the EMT program boasting a 95-percent job placement rate, students like Ramirez can take off with meaningful careers for healthier communities.

Tello couldn’t be prouder of his student for thinking fast and acting quickly in the line of duty. Says the professor, “I think that’s what makes him a hero, because had he not done that, they wouldn’t have been able to save that person’s life.”

For his part, Ramirez is grateful to instructors like Tello, who gave him the training he needed to make a difference.

“All of my professors have been really knowledgeable and have helped me progress,” says the STC student. “They have a lot of experience under their belts, and that helps a lot.”

Looking back, Ramirez says he is proud to have come this far, all while working full-time, going to school, and raising his child, who is now nine. “He says that I’m his role model, and he wants to be a paramedic as well,” Ramirez chuckles. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, you’re going to be a doctor!’”

One day, Ramirez hopes his child will follow in his footsteps and go to South Texas College. That’s why the lifelong learner also plans to continue his own education and set an example. He says he’ll continue to earn his bachelor’s and master’s, working toward his “ultimate goal” of becoming a nurse practitioner.

Says the first-rate first responder, “It’s not about the money — it’s about helping out those in need and giving back to my community.”