May 29, 2009
By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
When 10-year-old Desthenie (pronounced Destiny) Espinoza came home from school on April 14, she found her grandmother, Guadalupe Santillan, unconscious and barely breathing.
“I just knew that I had to call the ambulance,” Desthenie said.
Desthenie couldn’t find the wireless phone in her house, so she ran to her neighbor’s house where her best friend, 10-year-old Jennifer Ortega, was the only person home.
Both girls quickly dialed 911.
Police Officer Jonathan Dungan was the first to arrive at the house.
Desthenie translated for her Spanish-speaking grandmother so he could update paramedics on Santillan’s medical history.
Guadalupe Santillan had suffered a serious heart attack. Medical staff at UCSD say that if she had not gotten immediate attention she may have died.
To recognize Desthenie Espinoza and Jennifer Ortega for their heroic action, Fire Station 19 hosted the girls and Guadalupe Santillan at a firefighters’ lunch on Saturday, May 23.
Both girls and Santillan received a guided tour of Station 19, located on Ocean View Blvd., in San Diego.
Desthenie said that she was surprised she was being treated as a hero. She said she just did what she had to do to save her grandmother.
“I feel that they (Fire Station 19 members) really helped us,” Desthenie said. “That’s why I never thought they were going to invite us to get this award and to have lunch with the firefighters.”
Santillan said she was grateful to Fire Station 19, but especially to the two young girls who helped the crew save her life.
“I love my granddaughter so much,” 56-year-old Santillan said. “She’s always lived with me.”
Santillan said that her granddaughter’s best friend, Jennifer, also has a special place in her heart.
“I also love her so much,” she said. “I’ve known her since she was a little baby, and I know her family very well.”
For Marcelo de Casas, one of the firefighters who first arrived at the scene, Desthenie’s very mature for her age. He said that she maintained calm during a situation when other people would just break.
“She didn’t start crying, like most people would’ve,” he said. “There are not a lot of people who respond calmly like she did, without the proper training.”
De Casas said that without the girls’ assistance, the grandmother most likely would’ve died.
J. T. Finch, one of the first officers on the scene, said that the girls’ timely response to the emergency made all the difference.
“They trully are real heroes,” he said.