Visiting Angel saves Monte Vista veteran’s life

Antonia Martinez and Jerry Salazar in his home /Photo by Chelsea McNerney-Martinez

MONTE VISTA—Antonia Martinez, a home health aide with Visiting Angels, has been working with local USMC Veteran Jerry Salazar since Aug. 20, but in that short period of time has used her expertise and previous personal healthcare experience to go far beyond the call of duty and has saved Salazar’s life on three occasions.

Martinez works with Salazar for three hours most afternoons, helping him with household tasks Salazar can’t complete because of his combat injuries and medical conditions. Shortly after being assigned to work with Salazar, Martinez noticed what appeared to be a rash on his right foot, which is medically paralyzed due to combat wounds Salazar sustained in Vietnam. Salazar could thus not answer Martinez’s inquiry about the pain around the rash, but told him it felt hot and he should have it checked by a doctor. Shortly after, he brought it to the attention of his doctors while at a medical appointment at the VA in Albuquerque because of Martinez’s suggestion, where Salazar states they found a massive infection and were able to treat it before it caused any further permanent injury to his foot.

After the infection was treated, Martinez noticed what appeared to Salazar to be a varicose vein in his leg, but recognized it was something more serious after asking him if he had a history of blood clots. Martinez encouraged Salazar to seek medical attention for it and Salazar was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis, and while being treated for that at the hospital, the doctors also found a pulmonary embolism roughly five centimeters from his lung and were able to treat it in time.

Several weeks after that, Salazar fell in the shower and struck his head on the side of the tub. His service dog, Sofia, and her puppy who will be in service dog training through the VA next spring, America, immediately alerted Martinez and lead her to the bathroom to assist Salazar, who believed he was largely uninjured from the fall. However, Martinez recognized serious signs of a concussion, including slurred speech and Salazar falling asleep while talking and called an ambulance. Salazar was taken to Rio Grande Hospital where he was diagnosed with a grade three severe concussion and was kept for observation. Roughly a month after the fall, Martinez recognized the symptoms returning and again called an ambulance for Salazar, and he was diagnosed with a brain bleed concentrated where the initial injury from the fall was, which was putting pressure on his brain.

Salazar credits Martinez’s caring skill and quick-thinking in “saving my bacon about three times in two and a half months.” The VA Hospital in Albuquerque has also issued three letters to Antonia recognizing her for her pivotal role and dedication in assisting Salazar, including a letter from podiatry surgeon Dr. John Tran.

Salazar noted that out of the roughly seven nurses and health aides who have assisted him, Martinez is the only one to so quickly recognize the potentially life-threatening symptoms and encourage him to seek appropriate medical attention. Salazar noted she is also a great fit to work with him regularly. “The VA tells me I need to recognize my limits and I’m not very good at that, but Antonia definitely helps me see my limitations better than I do… She’s not a ‘yes’ lady, she tells me what needs to be done.” Salazar also noted Martinez works well with his service dogs.

Martinez, who is 28, has lived in Monte Vista most of her life. When she isn’t working she enjoys spending time with her family, who she credits with some of the exceptional skills she has shown assisting Salazar.

Martinez’s father, Charles, was also a veteran and was a quadriplegic, following an accident when she was in the fifth grade. Since then she assisted her mother, Karen Jiron, with his care until he passed away last year. By assisting her father, Martinez learned a lot about looking for symptoms of blood clots and infections. Last year Martinez also assisted her cousin in coaching cheerleading at Monte Vista High School, where she took a training course on recognizing the symptoms of concussions. Martinez is working to save up money to attend school for additional nursing certifications. Salazar pointed out another pleasant coincidence; Martinez’s sister, Adonia, a nurse at Rio Grande Hospital, was the only one to quickly and efficiently find a vein in the ER one of the times Antonia had called the ambulance for him, which Salazar noted is especially difficult because of his injuries.

Martinez noted she is “very happy to be here” working with Salazar but overall sees the times she has helped to save Salazar’s life as just doing her job. Salazar explained “In World War I the Germans stated the Marines fought like Devildogs, which is a nickname the Marines have taken on, but the Navy Corpsmen also adapted the nickname into Devil Docs. I think Antonia has proven herself to be a Devil Doc and she should wear the title proudly.”