Remembering to breathe

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Thomas Zandate, a recruiter with Recruiting Substation Pomona, Recruiting Station Riverside, 12th Marine Corps District, stands outside his office in Pomona, CA, Sept. 21, 2020. The day before, Zandate performed CPR to help save a man’s life outside in the parking lot of RSS Pomona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Juan Madrigal)
February 25, 2020

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Being thrown into an emergency can be frightening and confusing, especially when a person’s life is at risk. That is something U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Thomas Zandate, a recruiter out of Recruiting Substation Pomona, Recruiting Station Riverside, 12th Marine Corps District, can tell you firsthand when he noticed a man in need of medical attention. On February 20, 2020, Zandate’s heroic actions saved a man’s life in a parking lot off of Rio Rancho Rd. in Pomona, Calif.

That Thursday afternoon was like any other for the Marines at RSS Pomona, talking to individuals about the Marine Corps and discussing their goals and aspirations. Zandate was on his way back to the RSS to speak to Manuel Corrales, an individual that is aspiring to become a Marine. Corrales was waiting outside the office when Zandate arrived.

“I had stayed outside to talk to Corrales about him joining the Marine Corps,” said Zandate. “While we were talking, a gentleman had yelled something to us but it was unclear what he was saying.”

The scene immediately began attracting more spectators and without hesitation, Zandate rushed over to assist in whatever was happening. To both Zandate’s and Corrales’ dismay, it was a man on the floor who appeared unresponsive.

“One of the others that rushed down said she was a registered nurse, so she took over the scene. She started CPR, but got really tired, really fast, so she had asked me to take over the chest compressions while she performed mouth to mouth,” said Zandate.

Fortunately for Zandate, RS Riverside holds annual cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes for every Marine Corps recruiter in the unit. RS Riverside had held their last class in October of 2019.

“I went on to continue chest compressions,” said Zandate. “This had to be going on for maybe four or five minutes then about halfway through one of my repetitions the nurse starts checking his pulse and saying, ‘we’re losing him, his eyes are turning blue and black we might lose him, they’re going to call it.’

“By call it, she meant the first responders were going it call it, she said just stop and that they’re going to call it. I was about halfway through my compressions and in my head, I just knew I had to do 30, so I kept doing them, and towards the end, his mouth was moving and it sounded like a snore. That’s when I continued the chest compressions until the snore became a breath. I told him to focus on my voice and focus on your breathing, don’t worry about anything else.”

At that moment, the gentleman started moving his hands, blinking and began to have a regulated pulse. He started to gag so the nurse and Zandate turned him to his side to keep him from choking. Sirens rang in the distance, and to all their surprise and relief, the man rose to his feet.

“He was blue and his pupils were dilated but then all of a sudden, he was breathing,” said Corrales. “If Zandate wasn’t there, that man could have died. He was in the right place at the right time and his training kicked in.”

This incident reaffirmed Corrales’ decision to become a Marine.

“This doesn’t change my mind about enlisting,” said Corrales. “The way Zandate reacted is the way Marines should be reacting.”

Emergency services arrived two minutes after the man regained consciousness. Later, Zandate learned the man was the investigator coming to see Zandate for his interview to renew his security clearance.

“It’s weird how it all happens,” said Zandate. “He was here to see me, and the lady that stopped to help was a registered nurse. That day was not that man’s turn to die, everything happened perfectly. People ask what I would do in a situation like that, and I can tell you, you really don’t know. You do things based off of what you know.”

At the end of the day, Zandate did as he was trained and was glad he was able to help save a life with a few of the tools the Marine Corps taught him.