Brownsville brothers use first aid merit badge training to save lives

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HARLINGEN – It’s a Friday night.

Alejandro Flores is at a pool party. The adults have asked Alejandro, 16, to fetch chips and other refreshments inside the house. He goes inside and he sees his baby niece choking. He puts into action his first aid training as a Boy Scout, and the child is saved.

It’s an early Tuesday in December, and Cristian Flores arrives early at school. He sees his friend lying on the ground. Her eyes are racing – she’s having a seizure. Cristian, 16, isn’t supposed to run because of his surgery.

But he runs. To save his friend, he runs.

Cristian and his brother Alejandro were honored earlier this month with proclamations from the city of Brownsville for using first aid techniques they’d learned in Boy Scouts.

“On the morning of Dec. 6, of 2022,” reads the proclamation dated May 2, “Boy Scout Cristian Flores demonstrated bravery and heroism when he acted in a life-threatening situation.”

Alejandro’s proclamation reads in similar fashion, bestowing accolades on his quick thinking to save the life of a five-year-old girl.

“Alejandro’s actions were selfless, without hesitation, and swift as he ran to aid the choking child,” reads the proclamation.

“He saved a life that day,” it says.

The twin brothers sat calmly now at a Starbucks with their merit badges lined up like emblems across their uniforms. Each badge told a story of a moment of preparation, and each story was a chapter of their journeys through the scouting program. These markers highlighted the continuous constructions of their readiness for life’s challenges, setting up frameworks of mini contingencies for whatever need might arise.

“This is my First Aid merit badge, this is my SAR – Search and Rescue – merit badge, this is my Communication merit badge,” said Cristian, a Life Scout in Troop 11 in Brownsville.

Alejandro, also a Life Scout in Troop 11, was quick to point out his merit badges, which also included one for assisting people with disabilities.

The two boys were only 15 when they experienced their life saving event, but their badges represented years of work. Cristian spoke with great seriousness about the First Aid merit badge training that kicked in last December.

“I earned that merit badge at winter camp in 2019,” Cristian said. “It had been awhile since I touched on first aid. Our scout troop would do first aid training but we hadn’t gone that far.”

“That far” referred to the training on seizures. He had not reviewed for quite some time the procedures for helping someone with seizures. But still, he remembered. And he remembered well.

“It was instinct basically,” he said. “It was like a book opening.”

Cristian recalled quite well the December morning when he arrived at South Texas Independent School District Science Academy in Mercedes. It was 8 a.m. Few students were on campus yet, but he did notice one particular student standing frozen in place over a young girl lying on the ground.

“Hey, are you guys doing OK?”

No response from the male student standing. The girl on the ground was unable to respond.

“I tried waking her up, and I saw her eyes,” he said. “Her eyes were shaking violently. I checked her pulse. I started doing first aid on her, knowing that already it’s going to be a seizure, because after seeing her eyes and her not communicating it can’t be anything else. I’m feeling a little bit scared.”

Coffee came at this moment and there was the movement of chairs and setting of paper cups and the smell of coffee.

“After noticing this is a seizure, I started doing first aid which we call the Rush method,” he said. “It’s basically a first aid movement in which we assess the situation, look at the person, notice if the environment is safe, if the person is safe, and pinpoint what the problem is. I’m feeling a little bit nervous because of course it’s my friend. But as instincts that we’re taught, my first aid kicks in and I’m like, ‘OK, this is a real situation.’”

He got her turned on her side, then ran toward the library. He thought for a moment at this point about his surgery and the orders from his doctors not to run, but it was a fleeting thought and quickly dismissed, choosing his friend’s life before his own discomfort.

“I get to the library and I see no security guard,” he said. “I go in, and I do see a security guard there. And I say, ‘Sir, I need your help. I have a friend out there and she’s in need of medical help.’”

The guard began radioing for help while running with Cristian to his friend who was still on the ground.

“The security guard’s radioing and asking for help real fast,” Cristian said. “It was only five minutes until help actually did arrive. We had the school nurse that actually came out after that. By then the students are starting to arrive. The commotion is starting to happen. The security guard starts pushing me away. I’m there with her, the nurse is checking her vitals. She’s starting to regain consciousness.”

The first thing she asked Cristian: “Where am I?”

The second question: “Am I going to get in trouble?”

He assured her she was not. The ambulance came, attendants took over, and further trauma was avoided. She had only had one mild attack a week before that she did not report. Testing since that time has determined she has epilepsy.

It was quite a frightening experience that day for both students – they were both 15 years old at the time – but it made stronger a friendship between them. He sees her frequently at school and she thanks him quite often.

Alejandro seemed to think his life saving event in September at a friend’s house was less dramatic than his brother’s a few months later.

Less dramatic? Perhaps, but no less important and life changing.

“I see my niece on her iPad, leaning against a vase and she’s eating a bunch of food rapidly,” he recalled. “I tell her, ‘Slow down eating. You’re going to choke, and I’m going to have to help you if you choke.’”

As one might expect, she continued eating at her 5-year-old’s pace. He sat with her a moment to see what she was doing on her iPad, and then …

“As soon as I sat down next to her, she froze and she started shaking. And I could see her freaking out,” Alejandro said. “Her eyes are shaking, and I see her arms are shaking, signaling that she’s choking.”

Again, hours of training and repetition kicked in like sleeper cells being activated. The information began to flip through his mind like pages in a book – he knew exactly what to do. He observed several carrots stuck in her throat. Some came out, but another was lodged. He employed now the Heimlich maneuver for toddlers.

“I start pushing inwards onto her chest slowly because you don’t want to do it fast because you’ll break their bones in their rib cage,” he said. “Older adults you can use your whole hand, your palm. It was very crucial because you can actually kill a child if you do it like an adult.”

He pushed into her chest two times and the carrot popped out.

“Her eyes started to water, and she was crying. And she threw up a little bit,” Alejandro said. “As I was there, I saw my tia running through the sliding door, and she’s freaking out, like ‘What happened? Is she OK? I she choking?’ And I said, ‘No, everything’s fine.’”

And it was.

Cristian never thought when he earned the merit badge five years ago he’d be called on to use it anytime soon. He has this to say to other scouts earning merit badges in first aid or any other skill.

“Take it seriously,” he said. “There’s no other way to put it. Just take it seriously, focus on what your mentors teach you, because you never know when you’re gonna do it on a friend.”