First-grader Destiny Lopez had just sharpened her pencil eager to finish up a writing assignment when she accidently tripped—impaling the pencil through her chest and into her heart. Nearly 15 years later, the now 23-year-old and recent mother, still bears the scar of that near-fatal accident.
On May 14, she and caregivers from Harris Health System’s Ben Taub Hospital, as well as first-responders from the Houston Fire Department, will be joined by someone who many consider the unsung hero of the accident—teacher Terry Kirksey.
The group will attend Harris Health’s annual Trauma Survivor’s Celebration, an event that recognizes the remarkable stories of triumph and recovery of patients treated at Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals, sites of Level 1 and Level 3 trauma centers, respectively. The celebration reunites patients with members of their hospital care team. The event is held in May to coincide with National Trauma Awareness Month.
Because Kirksey did not pull out the pencil from Lopez’s chest, it gave her a fighting chance to survive the heart injury.
“I credit my Red Cross training and God equally for guiding me in what to do,” Kirksey says. “Destiny was one of my kids. Parents trust me with their children and they become my children, and I wasn’t going to let anything happen to one of my children.”
Kirksey recalls quickly calling the school nurse and then stretching out Lopez on the floor to cradle and hold her still. They talked about Barbie dolls and being strong. When paramedics arrived, they saw the pencil pulsating to Destiny’s heartbeat. Still, the teacher held her, talking to her soothingly until her mother arrived.
“I can’t say enough good things about the judgment used by Destiny’s teacher,” says Dr. Kenneth Mattox, chief of staff, Ben Taub Hospital and associate professor, Baylor College of Medicine, and part of the surgery team that operated on Lopez. “I was able to pull the pencil out, plug the hole with my finger while the other surgeon sewed it up. If someone had decided to remove the pencil at the scene, chances are she would’ve bled out and died before arriving at the hospital.”
For her part, Victoria Cereceres-Hollis, Lopez’s mother, is thankful everyone did the right thing for her daughter.
“I had seen too many TV shows. This was devastating. I had to be strong even though I didn’t feel strong,” she recalls. “When we got to Ben Taub, a team of doctors and nurses was waiting for us. They rushed Destiny to surgery. Thankfully, there was no damage to her heart. There’s not one day that I don’t thank God for giving Destiny back to me.”
Lopez doesn’t remember leaving school, but she does remember the ambulance ride. She was cold and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let her sleep.
Today, Lopez is the proud mother of a six-month-old baby girl, Ariella Victoria Rodriguez. She’s also workroom and teacher’s aide at the same school of her accident, Youens Elementary in Alief ISD. Her life has been bound with activities and experiences.
“I’ve learned to be more careful with pencils. I use pens now,” she says when asked what she’s learned from her experience, her humor is evident. If people ask about her scar, she might explain it, or she might not. “It’s an important event in my life, and I’m okay with it,” she adds.
Lyndon B. Johnson and Ben Taub hospitals are vital parts of the Houston/Harris County emergency response system. Both facilities treat nearly 182,000 emergency patient visits and trauma cases annually.