Heroes walk among us.
It was a busy Saturday afternoon at Stewart Beach. The middle-aged man sat contentedly in a chair enjoying the day. He had been working hard all week, and spending the day with his family was a welcome break. He looked around watching the kids digging holes in the sand and tourists relaxing and sunning in the beach chairs.
In the periphery, he was aware of the lifeguards going about their duties, the umbrella vendors working the chair lines and the weekend security detail patrolling the crowd. It felt good to lie there, relaxing and sipping his drink.
As he took a gulp of his drink, a cube of ice lodged in his throat firmly, blocking his airway completely. At first, he thought he could clear it by coughing and wasn’t too concerned. As valuable seconds ticked by, he realized he couldn’t clear it himself and fear gripped him. What if his life ended right here, right now? Who would take care of his family? His kids? How could events take such an abrupt, terrifying change from moments before?
He jumped up and staggered around. Lack of oxygen was starting to take effect as his vision narrowed, and he struggled to maintain consciousness. He looked around in desperation.
In what was left of his peripheral vision, he saw a patch of blue. Redirecting and focusing, he saw it was the blue shirt of a police officer. The man staggered toward the officer clutching his neck.
Officer Javier Rojas is a 20-year veteran of the Galveston Police Department who works security on the weekends for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees at Stewart Beach. He’s an easygoing guy who is well-liked by everyone he works with. He is affectionately called “Huggy” by his co-workers. Both his grandparents on his mom’s side and his father emigrated here from Mexico. His parents had eight kids and he is right in the middle.
He went to both O’Connell and Ball high schools, playing football and graduating in 1980. He, like his father before him, worked as a longshoreman. He then joined the U.S. Marines and served his country for a time before returning, working as a longshoreman again and finally joining the Galveston Police Department. He first learned CPR in the Marines and later as a police cadet.
Fortunately, Officer Rojas was the one the choking man saw. Javier figured it out and reacted quickly. It took about five abdominal thrusts before he was able to clear the man’s windpipe. By the time we got there, the man was perfectly fine.
When I asked Javier if I could write about the event, he looked puzzled. He gave a sort of “Why? What’s the big deal?” look and shrugged.
I don’t imagine the man who almost didn’t go home with his family shares Javier’s puzzlement over why anyone would want to recognize what he did that day.
Heroes walk among us.
Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity. Information on the Beach Patrol is at galvestonbeachpatrol.com.