main news story
BVU Freshman Helps Save Coworker's Life

September 21, 2020 12:53pm

Buena Vista University freshman Diego Aguilera will long remember his first day on the job at the Storm Lake Walmart. He helped save a coworker who experienced a heart attack.

Aguilera was being trained as an associate in the produce department when he and his coworker took a break around 6:30 p.m. and retired to a back room. That’s when his coworker told Aguilera he didn’t feel well.

“He sat down on a box of bananas and began sweating,” Aguilera says. “His skin turned pale, so did his lips. He was out of breath.”

The victim tipped his head back and Aguilera began feeling for a pulse, or a heartbeat.

“I didn’t feel a heartbeat, so I began doing chest compressions,” says Aguilera, who, as a team captain for the PSJA Memorial High School wrestling team in Pharr, Tex., became certified in CPR.

“I did compressions for 30 seconds or so and the heart was beating,” he says. “So, I began talking to him, asking questions about his kids and what he liked to do. I wanted to help keep him conscious by having to answer my questions.”

The man looked at Aguilera and told him to call in a code white, the alert code Walmart employees use for injuries and situations like this. Aguilera ran to Customer Service, then summoned a manager who called 911.

“The manager checked the guy’s heartbeat and kept asking similar questions,” says Aguilera, who helped guide Storm Lake Police to the victim as well as the ambulance crew. In time, the man was transported via ambulance to Buena Vista Reginal Medical Center in Storm Lake and then on to a Sioux City hospital, where he remained, recovering in intensive care on Friday.

Aguilera worked to the end of his first day on the job. He called his mother late Thursday evening, then shared the story on Friday with his BVU wrestling coaches Mark Rial and Sean White.

“You were the right man in the right place at the right time,” Rial says.

“You took care of business the best you knew how,” White says. “We’re grateful to have a guy like you on the team. We can learn from you.”

Aguilera’s actions drew praise from Kristy Wagner, a Walmart front end coach who was helping manage the store on Thursday evening. “Diego had a memorable first day of work,” she says. “He handled everything great. He kept his cool as we made the code white call. He then helped direct police and the ambulance crew inside.”

For Aguilera, a computer science major, it was his second brush with a medical emergency in 2020. He received a plaque recently to commemorate his life-saving actions when he and his high school wrestling coach saved an infant who was choking.

“We were at a Chick-fil-A parking lot when people were calling because they needed help,” he remembers. “Their baby was choking.”

As Aguilera’s coach tapped the baby’s back, Aguilera extracted a piece of food from the infant’s throat.

Aguilera even has a medical tie to his first couple of weeks as a freshman at BVU. He was quarantined after being exposed to a fellow BVU student who tested positive for COVID-19 in August.

“I spent two weeks in quarantine, but it wasn’t bad,” he says. “I was able to attend all of my classes, and people brought me three meals per day. I was also able to get outside and take a walk with Coach Rial.”

Aguilera didn’t squander the time, either. Rather, he used hour upon hour upon hour to improve his strength and endurance by completing thousands of pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, and more.

“He ended up making it a good experience,” Rial says. “And, in reality, it gave us coaches the chance to get to know him a lot better.”

Aguilera, who says he’s enjoying classes and the Storm Lake weather, is now anxious to being practice as he pursues his dream of wrestling at 125 pounds for the Beavers.

(credit to Tim Gallagher)