News Column

Gonzalez Receives Idaho Cross

Nov. 22, 2012

Alison Gene Smith

A Twin Falls man will soon receive the Idaho Cross, the highest state award that can be presented to a member of the National Guard.

In late January, Idaho National Guard Sgt. Jesus "Jesse" Gonzalez was driving his daughters back home from a basketball game when he saw an SUV run several stop signs, then pass them on the wrong side of the road.

"I said, 'Look at this knucklehead,'" Gonzalez said. "I tried to speed up to catch them and finally we got to the last intersection and she was parked across the intersection, flashers on. There was a gentleman talking to her. I told my daughters, 'I hope everything's ok.'"

Gonzalez approached the Jeep Commander and inside was Shaunna Coit, her body twisted in a seizure, helpless.

In April 2011, Coit, a Filer resident, had surgery to remove her thyroid gland. During the surgery, Coit's parathyroid glands were damaged.

Coit's first seizure came three days after her surgery. After that, doctors put her a on a combination of 39 pills a day. Some had to be crushed, some taken with food, and some taken in the middle of the night, Coit said.

Eventually she decided to join a fitness boot camp class to get back some of the strength she lost after surgery.

Sometimes during workouts, Coit said, she noticed her hands and feet would feel tingly. Still, doctors told her not to worry.

"It's so rare," she said. "The odds that all four (glands) were damaged are one in a million."

After a gym class the night of Jan. 24, Coit's hands and feet began to tingle as she drove. Still, she felt it couldn't be a seizure. Then her fingers began to curl in and she knew her calcium levels were dropping and a seizure was coming.

"I waited a little too long," she said. "My hands are the first thing to go."

Coit said she decided the best thing to do was to drive herself to the hospital.

"I just thought, 'Oh, I'm not stopping," she said.

Coit remembers passing a car near the intersection of Wendell Street and Falls Avenue. By the next intersection, her eyes had clamped shut and she couldn't see.

"I couldn't put the car in park. I couldn't even get out of the car," she said.

Coit hoped her car, which careened through the intersection, would catch someone's attention and they would call 911.

Before she knew what was happening, Gonzalez reached into her car, threw it in park, undid her seatbelt, picked her up and carried her to his car.

Gonzalez raced to St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center, parking near the emergency room entrance. At first, Gonzalez said he thought hospital staff didn't believe he had an emergency.

"Then I got her all taken out of the car. The nurse heard her screaming and they prioritized it," he said.

Coit was rushed in and received a calcium infusion that saved her life.

"Within 15 minutes I was fine again," she said.

After she felt better, Coit asked the nurses who the man who brought her in was. No one knew.

Coit only knew the man had a daughter and dog and found out from hospital staff that he had a bright yellow Ford Mustang.

The next day, Coit posted the story on Facebook and asked people to be on the lookout for a yellow Mustang.

Within about a day, one of Coit's Facebook friends saw Gonzalez's car, followed it and put a note on it after he parked at the National Guard Armory.

"It's funny, I'm always try to be aware of my surroundings," Gonzalez said. "A lady came out and she was following me and I was like 'who in the heck is following me, I hope it's not someone trying to pick a fight.'"

Gonzalez found the note later in the day when he left work.

"She said, 'If you're the guy who saved my friends' life then give me a call,'" Gonzalez said.

Soon, the two got in touch and Coit arrived at Gonzalez's office.

"I didn't know how bad her situation was," he said. "She came into the office and talked for a while. She kind of made me cry a little but. That's when I thought, maybe I did do something."

Since then, Coit said she's been careful about when she's alone. She now wears a medical identification bracelet that says if she needs calcium. She still takes about 20 pills a day and there's still no way to check if her calcium levels are dropping.

"I have to guess, does my calcium feel high or low," she said.

She carries liquid calcium, which can buy her some extra time in case of an emergency.

Looking back, Coit said she will always be thankful for Gonzalez's actions.

"It still blows my mind," she said. "There's not many people who would do that."

Coit's brother, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, got the ball rolling on the award for Gonzalez, she said. He looked up what kind of award a military member can get for helping someone in a civilian setting, she said.

Col. Tim Marsano, spokesman for the Idaho National Guard, said this week that he just learned Gonzalez would get the award.

"It's a great story and we're proud of him. In a nutshell, it's the highest Idaho award that can be presented to a member of the National Guard. It's usually for lifesaving actions. It's pretty rare that we give them out -- maybe once every 18 months to two years," Marsano said. "He's a really fantastic guy and Twin Falls should be proud to have him as a resident down there."



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)


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