April 3, 2019

Here is your Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org . Reprint is available with written permission from the Foundation.

Pulse Nightclub Shooting Survivor Becomes A Flight Attendant as A Way to Help Others

Flight Attendants are the first responders on flights. If someone has a heart attack on a plane, I am trained to help keep them alive until we are on the ground and medical personnel can take over. In the air, flight attendants are nurses, counselors, and even security personnel. I am proud to be a flight attendant.
-Pulse Nightclub Shooting Victim, Angel Santiago

----- Attendees of the Family Assistance Education and Research Foundation’s 2019 Member Partner Meeting in Burbank, CA will meet Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor, Angel Santiago. Originally scheduled to present in person, Angel will now appear on video, as he is currently working as a flight attendant crew member for United Airlines. After spending more than a month in the hospital, following the shooting, Angel was convinced that he needed to go into a profession where he could help others the way the first responders, nurses, and other members of the medical team helped him.

----- At first, Angel was headed toward a career in critical care nursing, but when he learned about the flight attendant’s job description, Angel decided to apply to United Airlines when he heard they were hiring. By mid-March, 2019, Angel had graduated from training school and was working as a flight attendant, based out of New York, NY.

----- Angel was among over a dozen people who took shelter in a handicapped stall in the men's room in the Pulse Nightclub shooting, June 12, 2016 where 49 people were killed by one shooter. Another 53 were wounded, including Angel and his best friend Jeff. Both men were shot numerous times and witnessed others in unimaginable pain and anguish and watched one young woman die right beside them.

I dragged myself out of the Men’s Room to try to get help. My biggest concern was for my friend Jeff who was bleeding profusely. -Angel Santiago

----- Jeff was shot several times and was bleeding badly. Angel and another friend who is medically trained, believed that if Jeff did not get help soon, he would die. When the shooting subsided, although not sure of the whereabouts of the shooter, Angel dragged himself out of the Men's Room, across the nightclub floor to get help for Jeff and the others. Many of the injured, like Jeff, were unable to help themselves. Fortunately, the local responders broke into the wall and rescued Jeff in time to save his life—and others. 

I was impressed with the empathy of the nurses and first responders. -Angel Santiago

---- When Angel was asked in the interview on video, what he felt was the most significant thing he learned from the tragic experience, like many trauma survivors, he talked about empathy and gratitude. Gratitude for his life, and also for having less long-term injuries than others. Even though he was shot in his knee and ankle, Angel’s injuries did not prevent him from selecting a career of his choice, i.e., becoming a flight attendant.

----- Angel described many different acts by the medical team which showed the empathy they felt for him. For example, the night he was admitted, he wanted to let his mother know that he had survived the shooting that was being broadcast by all of the local, as well as national media. His phone went missing during the crisis, but he was able to remember his mother's number. One of the nurses called Angel's mother and held the phone for Angel so that she could hear her son’s voice.

----- Other examples included purchasing Angel new clothes. The night of the shooting, in order for first responders to get to his wounds quickly, they were forced to cut his clothes from his body. There were many other things the medical team did, but there was one more that stood out in his memory. Toward the end of the month-long stay, one of the nurses mentioned that she was taking her lunch break. Angel knew she was going to the gift shop. Desperate to get out of his room for any reason, he asked the nurse to take him with her. The nurse took him in his wheelchair and he enjoyed being in a different environment. For just a few moments, he felt that he was not a patient.
----- Too often, leadership as well as their team members, do not learn about their successful efforts. The urgency to respond and the need to get back to regular business often precludes the opportunity to hear about things they did well. While mistakes are quickly discussed and pointed out as a way to improve responses—an understanding of successful efforts is essential too.

----- The Foundation maintains a library of video recorded interviews with survivors like Angel and his friend, Jeff. You can read more of Jeff's story in the February 2019, Wednesday Wisdom article. While there are always suggestions and lessons learned in the survivor interviews, there are many examples, like those mentioned in this article where survivors praise responders and provide testimony to the value of the help offered in the aftermath. The Foundation’s website www.fafonline.org features a list of videos that are available for a small donation. These donations help support recordings like these of the Pulse Nightclub shooting and others that are rich with learning for responders of all types. 
© 2019 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.