Ricky Garcia: The heart of a giant

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, June 25, 2015


By Claire Sachse
Life in Our Foothills, February 2015

It was early in the morning when radiology assistant Ricky Garcia began his workday in St. Luke’s Hospital radiology department. His coworker, Scott Knestaut, a nuclear medicine tech, also came in early. They greeted each other through the office window as Knestaut walked down the empty hallway.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Garcia was expecting to hear the sound of the time clock around the corner as Knestaut was headed that way to clock in. But what he heard instead was a lunch pail dropping to the floor, and a loud thud that Garcia knew could only be Knestaut collapsing on the floor.

Garcia rushed out of his office to his co-worker’s side. His training as a firefighter kicked in; he performed CPR immediately, and delivered his friend to the emergency room. After he was stabilized, Knestaut was transferred to Mission Hospital, with Garcia following along in Knestaut’s truck, for emergency surgery on his heart valve.

Knestaut credits Garcia with saving his life.

“I had no idea I had a heart valve defect, but one morning my heart stopped. There was no blood getting to my brain and I passed out. Thankfully, Ricky was there to initiate a Code Blue to alert staff to immediate action. Ricky’s quick thinking saved my life,” said Knestaut.

Facing some physical restrictions when Knestaut returned to work, Garcia was there as well to help transport his patients and ready the rooms for procedures.

“That was far above and beyond,” said Knestaut about Garcia.

Above and beyond, though, is a normal way of operating for Garcia, as many at St. Luke’s will attest.

“Ricky is always observant and aware when teammates need help moving or lifting patients,” said Teresa Davis, director of radiology. “Many times other departments will call and ask for his assistance, and he is always willing to help.”

His aware and observant nature, coupled with keen intuition, kicked in last fall. When Garcia returned to his office after lunch and listened to his voicemails, there was one that was particularly disturbing. A patient who was supposed to have come in that morning for an appointment, had left a message for Garcia.

“When he left the message, he just didn’t sound right,” recalled Garcia, who recognized the patient’s voice. “He couldn’t tell me his name or his phone number, and his speech was slurred. It just wasn’t right.”

Garcia immediately called the patient’s doctor and EMS, and recounted the message. Help was dispatched to the patient’s house, and again, Garcia was credited for saving another person with a heart condition.

His work performance and dedication to St. Luke’s patients recently earned Garcia the top award offered by Carolinas HealthCare System. Out of 760 nominations submitted by hospitals and medical centers around North and South Carolina within the system, ten were chosen for Pinnacle Awards. He is the only St. Luke’s employee to have won the award. He was notified September 17, 2014.

With the award, came the paparazzi, limelight, “rock star treatment” and public attention that this unassuming “gentle giant” finds a little embarrassing. Carolinas HealthCare System gave him the royal treatment with a gift card, Carolina Panthers tickets, a tribute video in which he starred, promotional photography shoots, an honorary breakfast, balloons and a limo ride to the awards dinner at the Charlotte City Club.

“When I first got the award, I didn’t really like the cameras. It felt good I guess, but a lot of people deserve it,” said Garcia. The award is a two-foot tall glass pyramid that sits above his TV on a shelf at home, next to his fireman of the year award, earned in 2008 from the Sunny View Fire Department.

“The award is finally sinking in,” said Garcia, smiling, barely.

No one at St. Luke’s was surprised when Garcia won the award, but everyone was excited for him, sharing handshakes and hugs, a celebratory cake and balloons.

Ken Shull, St. Luke’s CEO, said that Garcia deserves the recognition.

“He is an amazing teammate who epitomizes the ‘best of the best.’ He has a gentle spirit and genuine concern for our patients. Ricky is quiet, intuitive, compassionate, and he’s pretty funny, too!” Shull said.

Garcia believes that he doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, he just goes about his day doing his job.

Knestaut added, “The only thing bigger than Ricky, is his heart.”