The strength to survive

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

Bridgeport woman defies the odds, lives to thank first responders

Jailisa Reyes, left, of Bridgeport, talks with Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 firefighter James Trzaski, center, and Beacon Hose EMT Rob Swercewski at the firehouse in Beacon Falls on Nov. 1. Reyes nearly died from injuries suffered in a head-on crash on Route 8 in August. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — In Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 firefighter and EMT Jeremy Rodorigo’s 34 years of medical experience, he’s never seen a person live after going into cardiac arrest as a result of trauma.

There’s always a first time, and her name is Jailisa Reyes.

Reyes, a 28-year-old Bridgeport resident, suffered severe injuries in a head-on crash at about 3:30 a.m. Aug. 29 in the S-curve on Route 8 South near exit 24. A Ram 2500 Tradesman pickup truck that was heading the wrong way collided head-on with the Chevrolet Malibu she was driving.

The crash left Reyes unconscious and clinging to life. Her left leg, which was mangled and later had to be amputated below the knee, and pelvis were pinned under the dashboard of the car.

Two months after the horrific crash, Reyes and her family visited the firehouse in Beacon Falls on Nov. 1 to thank the first responders and medical team that saved her life. Everyone agreed the reunion was nothing short of a miracle.

“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t think I’d be sitting here talking with you,” firefighter James Trzaski told Reyes.

Trzaski, a veteran firefighter, was among the first firefighters on the scene. He said he’d never seen a car so badly damaged and a person so severely trapped.

After checking on Reyes’ passenger, 29-year-old Vanessa Meranvil of Bridgeport, firefighters went to work cutting the car open to lift the dashboard and free Reyes, Trzaski said. All the while, Rodorigo was holding Reyes to keep her airway open.

Meranvil broke her wrist and ankle, Reyes said, and has recovered.

After freeing Reyes, first responders carried her on a stretcher over the Jersey barrier to an ambulance waiting on Route 8 North and rushed her to Waterbury Hospital.

Beacon Hose Chief Brian DeGeorge said the company took measures it typically doesn’t when responding to the crash, including driving the wrong way on the highway to get to the scene and parking the ambulance on the other side of the highway. He estimated these steps took 10 minutes off the time to get Reyes to the hospital.

From the dispatch call to Waterbury Hospital took 33 minutes, Rodorigo said.

“Everything worked together, the planets were all lined up, and you had a serious, serious will to be here,” DeGeorge told Reyes.

The trauma team of doctors Mohammad Ali, Sepehr Karimi, Sean Ramras and Georgios Mihalopulos took over at Waterbury Hospital, where Reyes’ heart stopped beating. The medical team started chest compressions but were forced to try a much more invasive procedure, Rodorigo said.

Doctors cut open Reyes’ chest on her left side, split her ribs, reached in and manually massaged her heart for 90 minutes until she stabilized.

Ali said it’s unusual to manually massage someone’s heart for that long. Typically, he said, doctors will stop because there’s no reason to do it for that long. The odd thing, he continued, was that Reyes’ body still moved, even when her heart stopped beating.

“That kind of kept us going,” he said.

“She’s so strong and she showed us all the right signs,” Karimi added.

The doctors said that less than 1% of the people who suffer the injuries Reyes did survive.

“You are a miracle,” Ali told Reyes. “We’re really humbled.”

Reyes, an accounting assistant, said she was at her sister’s house in Naugatuck the day of the accident celebrating her mother’s and friend’s birthdays. She typically would have stayed at her sister’s house, but decided to head home that night.

Reyes said the only thing she remembers of the crash is the headlights coming at her and then waking up in the hospital.

The driver of the pickup truck, Moyan Henry, 34 of Waterbury, suffered minor injuries, officials said. The crash remained under investigation and no charges had been filed as of last week, state police said.

Jailisa Reyes, of Bridgeport, shares an embrace with her son, M.J. Heyward, 8, at the firehouse in Beacon Falls on Nov. 1. Reyes nearly died from injuries suffered in a head-on crash on Route 8 in August. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Reyes endured grueling weeks of surgeries and rehabilitation in the wake of the crash, and the road ahead isn’t easy. She still doesn’t have complete movement in her left arm — it’s getting better, she said — and is in a wheelchair. She’s determined to walk again once she gets a prosthetic leg and return to a normal life.

Reyes said the important thing is being able spend the holidays with her family, especially her 8-year-old son, M.J. Heyward. She said it’s M.J. who gave her the strength to survive and persevere through the painful rehab sessions.

Reyes said she thought EMTs just dropped patients off and kept on going. She said it means the world to know that the members of Beacon Hose cared to ask how she was doing the days after the crash and continue to stay in touch.

Reyes is already making plans to attend Beacon Hose’s carnival next year. The next time she visits, she said she’s going to walk into the firehouse.

When asked what she would say to the first responders and doctors that saved her life, Reyes simply replied, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart and M.J.’s heart.”

Rodorigo said the story emphasizes the importance of team work. From dispatch to first responders to the trauma team, everyone worked together seamlessly to save a life.

“The most important person in the story and the person who worked the hardest is Jailisa because she had to will to live,” Rodorigo said.