CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Officer’s actions save a life

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Prince George's County Police Officer Edgardo Lopez, 30, was raised in a household in which his parents instilled in him the importance and value of helping others.

Officer Lopez, who was born in El Salvador, had always wanted to be a doctor, but his father would not pay for his education unless he became a lawyer. Instead, he attended a military academy in his country, but he had to leave because of an injury. Subsequently, he came to the United States on March 26, 1997. He could not speak English when he arrived and attended a language school for six months while also working at a grocery store.

“I like to help people. I realized when I was here that there are other ways of helping people,” he said.

He realized he could become something other than a doctor. He chose to become a police officer, and once he acquired his citizenship, he joined the Prince George’s County Police Department on July 10, 2006.

Last month, Officer Lopez was presented a Merit Award by Prince George's County Police Chief Roberto Hylton for risking his life to save another’s. The award reads: “For the outstanding performance and professional judgment you exhibited while initiating life saving techniques to an unconscious male on March 13, 2009. Your quick and decisive actions were directly responsible for saving the man’s life. Your selfless actions and willingness to place yourself at risk in an effort to aid another distinguish you as a model [to] emulate.”

It was presented during a formal awards ceremony at police headquarters in Palmer Park on Nov. 17.

“I felt good about [the award], but that’s part of my job. I was trained to save lives,” Officer Lopez said after the ceremony. “We rarely use our weapons. We use our brains or our mouths.”

He explained that the training he had received from the police academy and from his field-training officers had taught him how to handle events in a calm, collected way.

Officer Lopez’s career started in District 5, which covers the Oxon Hill area bordering the Southeast quadrant of Washington. The area is known to be a melting pot of different backgrounds and nationalities. The calls for service in that area can run the gamut from domestic violence, robbery or an injured animal to a disabled vehicle, among others.

“It’s an area rich in calls,” Officer Lopez said. “We never get the same thing. We have to be diversified when we go to a call. We have to be multifaceted.”

On March 13, he received a call at approximately 7:20 p.m. to respond to the 6100 block of Oxon Hill Road for a man down. Officer Lopez was very close to that location at the time and arrived on the scene at approximately 7:21 p.m. He initially observed a man, approximately 45 to 50 years old, face down with his knees on the ground.

“I hope he’s alive,” Officer Lopez said was his first thought. He notified dispatch that he had arrived on the scene and immediately left his cruiser and rushed over to assist the man, who was not identified by the department for privacy reasons. The officer tried to roll the man over but was unsuccessful on his first attempt. He tried again and was able to get the man on his back and take his vital signs. The man felt warm but had no pulse.

“I decided to try to open his airway,” Officer Lopez said.

He noticed the man had an obstruction in his throat, which appeared to be food. While using his fingers to try to get that out of the man’s mouth, he saw that the man’s eyes were semiopen. After removing the obstruction, Officer Lopez began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

He was the first one on the scene and didn’t give a second thought about any risk to himself. “I didn’t have time to think. No one will die in my care,” Officer Lopez said while reflecting on that day.

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