She’s not a doctor or a nurse, but you want her to be on duty when you come to the ER

Iliana Prudente has greeted thousands of patients and visitors in her two years as a patient liaison at the emergency department at Community Regional Medical Center — some bleeding from gunshot wounds — but nothing seemed amiss about the young man who came to visit his wife a few weeks ago.

Until he dropped his keys.

As the keys clanged to the floor and the man reached for them, Iliana watched. “He kind of hunched over for like a minute or so and I looked at him and when he finally stood up, I said “hey, are you OK?” He assured Iliana that he was fine, but something did not seem right and she thought, “let me keep an eye on this gentleman.”

Iliana, 20, has no medical education and wants to be a California Highway Patrol officer, but she is attentive to the people who come to the emergency department, saying “I like to help people.” And she felt this visitor in particular needed some help.

She was right. He began to limp and one side of his body slumped. His speech slurred, his face drooped. He insisted he was OK, but Iliana directed him to a chair in the hall. “Let’s take a seat here and have a doctor look at you, because you’re not OK,” she told him.

She alerted a supervisor, who got a wheelchair and rushed the visitor to the emergency department’s “red zone” for seriously ill patients who need immediate attention.

He was having a stroke.

And about 1.9 million brain cells die in every minute a stroke is untreated. Community Regional works to train staff to identify stroke-like symptoms and Iliana’s quick action made a difference, said Robert “Todd” Perruchon, a registered nurse and emergency services assistant manager.

Iliana Prudente, a Community Regional Medical Center emergency department patient liaison, helped to save two lives by being alert and getting help when she noticed visitors in the waiting room were in medical distress. One of the patients was having a stroke; the other was having a heart attack. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

The hospital cannot identify the visitor who became a patient because of confidentiality laws, but Perruchon said the man had a positive outcome. “He transitioned to our neuro floor and then he went to a rehab facility.”

Iliana has not seen the man since she got him help. “I hope he’s doing better,” she said Tuesday.

Her heroics might have gone unheralded outside of the ER staff appreciating her actions, but this past weekend Iliana jumped to the rescue of another patient — this time a man who was having a heart attack.

The waiting room had filled by 10 a.m. on July 28, and Iliana had been stationed at the emergency department entrance to regulate the flow of visitors. A man and his wife came to the entrance. “His shirt was really damp,” Iliana said. “His wife said ‘he’s having a heart attack! He’s having a heart attack!’”

Iliana quickly checked the man into the ER, but she saw a long line of patients waiting to have their medical condition assessed. Every minute that care is delayed for a heart attack patient can mean damage to heart muscle. Iliana flagged a nurse and asked her to look at the patient. “They take him straight back and started working on him,” she said.

The patient had a positive outcome, but it could have been very different if Iliana had not identified him as needing urgent care, Perruchon said.

Iliana said she only followed protocol. “We’re taught here to go with our chain of command so we know what we have to do — talk to our supervisor, talk to our team leader to get that patient to where they need to go.”

Community Regional has one of the busiest emergency departments in California, with more than 108,000 visits a year, and after two years and thousands of interactions with patients and visitors, Iliana said nothing surprises her. She’s had many patients with gunshot wounds. “We have a gurney specifically for people who come in as “GSWs” or are unconscious outside and we have to take them back to our trauma zone.”

An Edison High School graduate who is the eldest of three sisters, Iliana describes herself as a calm, responsible person, and working at the ER she’s proven she has those traits, which could be essential if she becomes a CHP officer. She’s attending Fresno City College and is in the CHP “Explorer” program.

Iliana has shown she has the right temperament to work in the emergency department, Perruchon said. “You just really don’t know what comes in through the doors.”