It was a night nearly a month ago that Frances Diaz received a call from a number she didn’t recognize, and it was her injured husband, Jorge, who through a borrowed phone delivered news that he had been in a serious motorcycle crash on the highway.
“I was terrified, but I was grateful he wasn’t alone,” said Frances, recalling how that other person’s presence took some of the terror out of the otherwise frightening phone call. “I was at peace because he told me, ‘I’m with a nurse and she’s taking care of me.’”
That nurse, Frances would find out, was Hartford Hospital’s Laura Miller.
Jorge Diaz said he was heading home to Manchester from Hartford on July 25 after church and a visit with his mother when the Suzuki he was riding collided with a vehicle. It happened at about 9:30 p.m. He remembers tumbling over and over. His helmet came off. Diaz said he tried to stand because he saw vehicles headed in his direction but couldn’t, and then started rolling to get out of traffic. He had a broken leg and arm.
That’s about the time Miller, who works in cardiac surgery, arrived. She, too, was headed home after leaving Hartford Hospital. Miller said traffic slowed on I-84, and she pulled over when she saw Diaz on the ground and people near him.
“My first thoughts were. ‘Please let him be breathing, please let him be awake, please let him be OK enough for me to take care of him until the ambulance can get here,’” she said.
Someone had called 911. In royal blue scrubs and clogs, Miller got to work.
She first determined whether Diaz’s life was in jeopardy, and from there Miller performed assessments to identify the extent of his injuries — information she relayed to East Hartford-based first responders. She asked bystanders for blankets they used to cover Diaz, and after Miller asked Diaz if there was anyone they could contact for him a woman at the scene dialed his wife’s number with her own phone and held it so Diaz could tell his wife what happened. Diaz said he tried repeatedly to look at his injuries but Miller wouldn’t allow it, the nurse insisting that he keep his head and neck stable.
First responders from East Hartford have praised Miller’s cool brand of professionalism, and on Wednesday morning they went to Hartford Hospital to describe her efforts to a large audience of hospital administrators, physicians, nurses and staff.
“To have a true professional decide to stop and render care and make a difference is a credit to not only her, but to her profession and the culture at Hartford Hospital,” said East Hartford Fire Chief John Oates, joined at the event by Jonathan Schiessl, the paramedic who met Miller at the scene that night. (In the photo above, Chief Medical Officer Todd Lomento of the East Hartford Fire Department gives Miller a challenge coin and an East Hartford patch.)
Her roadside patient said the most important thing Miller did was talk to him.
“Just knowing that I had someone there trying to talk with me and give me a little hope made such a difference,” said Diaz, who, with a badly-injured leg and arm, and a lot of stitches, stayed in Hartford Hospital’s Inpatient Rehab Unit for about two weeks.
In a wheelchair and on the mend, Diaz attended the hospital’s recognition event with Frances and told Miller and trauma physicians who cared for him, “I’m trying to push myself 110 percent because I want to get on my feet as quick as I can.”
Miller, the daughter of a retired police officer, appreciates their gratitude from Diaz and his family, but is reluctant to accept praise and contends she “didn’t do that much.”
Diaz won’t hear it. He gave Miller a bouquet of flowers Wednesday, and in a quiet moment after the recognition ceremony they went over the details of what happened that night. His family members were by his side, everyone on the verge of tears.
“She could’ve gone home like another person and been like, ‘you know what? I’m not dealing with this accident.’ But she didn’t, she put what she chose as a career ahead of everything,” Diaz said. “She made a big difference in my life.”
For information on Hartford Hospital’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, click here.