By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Jennifer Florez did what countless people do on Labor Day weekend.
She loaded up the suitcases, the puppy and her three children – 17-year-old Alexis, 15-year-old Jayk and 14-year-old Aberan, all students at Peoria High School. They hit the road for California for the long weekend to visit her children’s grandparents.
“We were going to visit their grandpa for his birthday. He was really sick,” Jennifer said.
The family hit the road Sept. 1 – the same path along Interstate 10 she has traveled countless times, over 20 years, and one she has known, like a faithful friend.
“But something didn’t feel right,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer checked the tires – everything seemed OK – and then put the puppy into its kennel.
“We had only been driving for an hour and a half. We had three hours to go … then the back tire blew out. We spun and just started rolling. It (the SUV) stopped on all four tires. … It wasn’t even a hard landing. It was so soft.”
That’s when “the sound turned back on,” Jennifer said, remembering the accident, in Quartzite, as something happening in silence.
In slow motion.
An out-of-body experience.
She also remembers the frenzy afterward. All the people that had gathered around. The panic. The chatter. The sounds. The worry.
“The first people that really caught my eye were two girls. They were young. They had long, blonde hair and purple scrubs. … They said 'GCU Nursing.' They were really good. They kept everyone calm. They stayed there with us until fire and police got there.”
It was odd, she said, that, “In this sea (of people), there were a lot of men. But all I saw was these girls.”
Among the chaos, Jennifer said: “I didn’t even get their names.”
As it turns out, Jennifer’s mother, Sandra Florez, works as an oncology resource nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and graduated from Grand Canyon University. “So it kind of came full circle for us,” Jennifer said of that connection to GCU.
So Sandra wrote a letter to GCU, calling the two students "angels," that ended up in the hands of Dr. Lisa Smith, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. Smith, in turn, found the two students – they are Carrie Dean and Riley Arnold, both Level 4 nursing students set to graduate in December.
"We're actually from California. ... We were just driving home, to go back to California, on the weekend when we saw this big dust cloud," Dean said. "I thought, 'Oh my God!' ... We didn't even know what we were going to run up to."
Arnold said, "I knew that with rollovers ... I knew there was a potential they could have hit their heads. ... We were really concerned because there were no airbags."
She added, "The mom was bleeding a little bit on her head," but otherwise, everyone seemed OK. They waited with the family until emergency personnel arrived.
By chance, Dean and Arnold will be heading to St. Joseph's, the same hospital where Jennifer's mom works, for one of their clinicals this semester. When they get to St. Joseph's, the first thing they want to do is contact Sandra.
"I've got chills right now," Arnold said of the connection.
"I'm just happy we were there, in the right place, and glad everything turned out OK, and thank you for the sweet letter," Dean said.
The family, who escaped the ordeal with minor injuries, just hopes to be able to thank the students who helped them.
Seeing those purple scrubs, and those girls with the long blonde hair, Jennifer said, “I felt everything would be OK.
“We’ve all grown up in the church. We have faith in God. … He played His hand in everything. … I thought, ‘If my mom’s not here, they’re here,’” Jennifer said, trying to hold back her emotions.
Sandra said, “The nursing students made sure they were all OK and did not let them out of the car until the paramedics got there. ... It was really good to hear her say those were the first people she saw.”
In her letter, Sandra wrote, “I believe that God has angels camped around us, and on that day, He happened to send two GCU nursing students to help my child and grandchildren at what could have been a very bad situation. My children are all well, a bit banged up, but I know that my God was in control.”
Contact Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or [email protected].