Bystander Renders Aid in Busy Restaurant

By Gina Mayfield

Friday nights for Israel Rodriguez and his family often involve winding down the workweek at a local restaurant. On one cold winter night in late January, they decided they were in the mood for Italian and headed to one of their favorite places. Just as they started to dig into appetizers, Israel sensed that something didn’t seem quite right with the family at the table directly across from them.

“I noticed the lady starting to panic. She’s patting her husband on the back, and she’s got this really worried look on her face. She gets up, starts trying to cry for help but can barely get the words out, then she seemed really afraid,” Israel says. The couple’s two little girls just sat at the table in shock. ”I pictured my family in that situation, if that were me,” Israel says, and he immediately got up to help.

“As soon as I started to walk over there to check on the man, his head hit the table,” Israel says. So Israel rushed over and started abdominal thrusts. On about the fourth thrust, what may have been a piece of ice dislodged from the man’s throat. He looked up at Israel and asked, “What’s going on? What happened?” He had completely lost consciousness.

What happened was that in a busy Italian restaurant with a Friday night crowd, only Israel rushed in to help. No one else stepped up, not even the manager or waitstaff. No one called 911. Lucky for Lee, the survivor, Israel had just completed a CPR & First Aid refresher course as a volunteer in the children’s ministry at his church. He and his wife had been taking life-saving courses for years.

Things settled down that night after the rescue, and Israel checked on Lee’s wife and children and made sure they were all okay. Lee’s family stayed and had their dinner — and bought Israel’s meal too.

In this day and age, Israel says that in an emergency people sometimes first think of recording an event, rather than rendering aid. “But a social media post isn’t going to help anybody in a life-threatening situation,” he says. “That was one of the things that really stood out to me about that night. If I hadn’t helped Lee, I don’t know if he would have had any help.”

Looking back, Israel also thinks about fully trained bystanders who have taken CPR courses, yet still hesitate to act because they’re afraid of hurting the victim. “It’s either you do something and give that person a chance, or do nothing and let them die. Step into action and increase their odds,” he says.      

That’s exactly what Israel did on that fateful Friday. Months later, he and Lee are still in touch. Lee reached out on Father’s Day, a holiday that undoubtedly meant a little more this year, especially to Lee’s two little girls who were with him in the restaurant. “It could have gone an entirely differently way that night,” Israel says.

The AHA is committed to transforming a nation of bystanders into a Nation of Lifesavers. Join the movement that can make a difference in the life of someone’s partner, parent, friend, or family.