White Sands Missile Range Community
Medical training becomes a matter of life and death
Story by SFC Michael Cox on 01/17/2019
Camp Bullis, Texas- Training is what Soldiers do to prepare for missions during both peace and war time. Training is designed and simulated to be as realistic and demanding as possible. But what happens when a training event becomes a real world situation where someone’s life is on the line? Some Soldiers from the 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, experienced this very situation at Camp Bullis in San Antonio, Texas.
In October 2018 noncommissioned officers and Soldiers from the 1st Med Bde went to Camp Bullis to serve as cadre for an upcoming Expert Field Medical Bade course starting on November 5, 2018. They arrived three weeks prior to the start of the training to prepare the lanes they would operate for the course.
The EFMB is a U.S. Army special skill identifier for recognition of exceptional competence and outstanding performance for field medical personnel. Medical personnel who take this course must complete a number of qualifications that are both written and performance based. The course is known for strict adherence to standards.
The cadre had cleared their course training validations early which left them some down time the weekend before the course was to start. Several cadre went to San Antonio to enjoy themselves.
“I decided to stay back at Camp Bullis with the Soldiers who decided not to go out in case there were any issues over the weekend,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Dominguez, a healthcare sergeant in the 1st Med Bde.
It wasn’t long before an issue came up. That Friday evening Dominguez was approached by Spc. Calvin Duke, a healthcare specialist in the 1st Med Bde, explaining that there was a situation with a Soldier, Spc. Alexis Valle, an information technology specialist in the 1st Med Bde, who wasn’t feeling well and who was throwing up and unable to retain any food or water.
“Friday night I began vomiting, but no one thought much of it because it was just a couple of times,” Valle said. “I felt fine and didn’t think it was anything serious.”
Valle said he thought it was food poisoning, however, this persisted for the next 24 hours and it was getting worse.
“Liquids weren’t staying down and I continued vomiting,” Valle said. “At this point I was starting to get really short of breath and having cold sweats.”
“I was approached by Spc. Valle who said he was feeling badly and having trouble standing up straight and wanted to see if I could tell what was wrong,” Duke said. “I did a standard patient assessment. How he felt at the time, what he had done that day.”
Duke assessed Valle’s breathing, movement and took his pulse then made the decision that he needed to leave the camp for more advanced medical care.
“I knew something was wrong because I could feel a heightened pulse immediately,” Duke said. “The average resting heart rate for someone his age is 60 to 80 beats per minute, his was 20 to 30 beats in ten seconds indicating that something was incredibly wrong.”
Duke went to the EFMB operations center and found there were no drivers available at the time. He was then told to call 911. Spc Duke didn’t think that was acceptable and approached Dominguez who was the NCOIC from 1st Med Bde. Dominguez agreed and decided to transport Valle to the emergency room on Joint Base San Antonio in his personal vehicle.
“When we got to the emergency room I was seen very quickly because my resting heart rate was 130,” Valle said. “I didn’t think anything of it. I’m sick, maybe it’s just a little bit higher than normal.”
Valle is an avid runner and found it odd this was happening to him.
Within ten minutes of arriving at JBSA Valle’s heart was starting to crash. Valle felt like his heart was being constricted and his heart rate jump to over 230. The staff immediately went to work on him.
Medical staff hooked Valle up to an IV pushing fluids into his body and gave him medications in an attempt to control his heart rate. The medications lowered his heart rate to a controllable range, however, for the next 12 hours Valle’s heart rate never lowered to a resting heart rate. It kept jumping between 88 and 128 bpm. Initial lab results indicated that Valle had an extremely high white blood cell count and high potassium levels which pointed to an infection, though they couldn’t figure out what triggered the heart rate to jump up that high.
Valle was kept for observation for 48 hours as the hospital ran heart tests on him. The doctors concluded that he had food poisoning and supraventricular tachycardia, a condition which sends additional electrical impulses to his heart and that is what triggered the actual incident.
Food poisoning was not the direct cause of the problem, but the stress of not being able to eat or drink and vomiting for 24 hours was putting Valle’s body under a good amount of stress. This stress would rebound a signal to the top of his heart over and over raising his heart rate.
“The nurse asked me how my chest felt,” Valle said. “I told the nurse I was just really out of breath. I didn’t feel anything in particular. The nurse told me that I was going to become very popular at that point.”
Valle was administered an injection that would paralyze his heart in an attempt to remedy the problem.
“It really was painful. It felt like my brain screamed. Every nerve ending. My body was telling me something was wrong,” Valle said. “I guess my body was aware that my heart stopped. After that passed the monitor started reading my pulse again and my heart rate didn’t drop. It was well above 250 bpm.”
Doctors administered another injection, this time a double dosage in an attempt to regulate the heartbeat.
Valle’s heart stopped for a little bit longer and his heart rate dropped to 120. The rest of the evening his heart rate was around 110 bpm, but they wouldn’t remove him from the ER until it dropped below 100, around 95 bpm.
Once Valle’s heart rate lowered to 95 bpm he was transferred to a ward where cardiologist informed him that a procedure would need to be done to rectify the issue.
“There was a spot in my heart that was rebounding the signal under stress,” Valle said. “I never felt it and I work out all of the time so it’s not unusal stress to my body.”
Doctors went through one of Valle’s arteries and burned off the additional electrical node on his heart that would relieve the issue. Valle was released from the hospital and wore a device that would monitor his heart for month. Today Valle is back at Fort Hood doing his job and has no issues since the procedure.
“This incident has made me think a lot about life,” Valle said. “Doctors told me that had this gone unnoticed it could have ended badly. I’m grateful for that Spc. Duke and Staff Sgt. Dominguez were there and did the right thing. Because anyone else could have told me to wait until sick call the next morning and that could have been too late.”
Duke and Dominguez don’t view themselves as heroes, but rather Soldiers doing their jobs.
“I feel that being called a hero is little too much. I’m just glad he is alright.” Duke said. “It is literally my job to make sure that people are alright and I do what I can. “
“I’m a health care sergeant. It’s my responsibility to ensure lives are saved,” Dominguez said. “I’m glad that everything worked out for Spc. Valle, but as an NCO the welfare of the Soldiers is my responsibility. So I didn’t do anything special outside the scope of my responsibilities. ”