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St. Cloud employees step up to save the life of a coworker

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm

By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Conversations about life and death medical decisions are usually a
family matter.

From left, city of St. Cloud employees Jack Lovejoy, Felix Rodriguez and Matt Baker smile for a photo at City Hall. Rodriguez’s coworkers rallied around when he became gravely ill.

From left, city of St. Cloud employees Jack Lovejoy, Felix Rodriguez and Matt Baker smile for a photo at City Hall. Rodriguez’s coworkers rallied around when he became gravely ill.

But when Felix Rodriguez got so sick in February that doctors put him in a medically induced coma, the 42-year-old St. Cloud resident and Public Services employee had no relatives at his side.
Lucky for him he had friends.
Jeff Hewitt and Jack Lovejoy, his buddies and fellow St. Cloud city employees, had taken him to the hospital two days earlier, on a Saturday, after he called Hewitt
for help.
“He told me he had already passed out earlier that day,” said Hewitt, 30. “That’s why I called Jack, in case I needed help getting him up.  “They rushed to Rodriguez’s house and found him in a delirious state, gasping for air. When they got him to St. Cloud Regional Medical Center he was incoherent and later transferred to the intensive-care unit.
“He was in bad shape,” said Lovejoy, 42.
By Sunday, Matt Baker, another friend who works and socializes with the men, had arrived at the hospital to check on Rodriguez. By Monday, he was comatose.
Although the three men could only get limited information from hospital staff about their friend’s condition because of privacy laws, they looked after him like brothers.
“When you think about it, you work the construction crew with guys eight hours a day, you spend more time with them than you do your own family,” said Hewitt, 30. “They become your family.”
Over the next few days, Baker, Hewitt and Lovejoy came to the hospital during lunch breaks and after work. They pressed nurses and doctors for details and spent time talking to Rodriguez even though he was unconscious. They prayed a lot, too.
Hospital staff in St. Cloud asked the men to contact the sick man’s family, explaining that Rodriguez could become a ward of the state if no one assumed legal responsibility for making medical decisions on his behalf. They tried to reach a distant cousin in St. Cloud who Rodriguez had mentioned in the past, but to no avail. He was transferred to Orlando Regional Medical Center before the week was over.
“One day he wasn’t there and the hospital couldn’t give me any information. I didn’t know if he was living or if he had passed” said Lovejoy, 42. “That was a really scary.”
After a lot of soul searching and discussions with Hewitt and Lovejoy, Baker decided he would take legal guardianship of Rodriguez.
“The three of us discussed making decisions as a group if it came down to it. When they start talking about a person like a number instead of human, I just couldn’t let that happen to Felix.” said Baker, 25, who lost his mother two years ago after she went into a coma.
The situation “struck me from home,” Baker said. “I can’t imagine not having somebody like that.”
But just as Baker was preparing to go to the hospital to sign the paperwork, he got a call from Lovejoy. Good friends, family and Facebook had united in Rodriguez’s favor.
His sister, Maria, had returned one of the frantic messages the men had sent to his family members in Puerto Rico with the help of Nelson Torres, another city employee who speaks Spanish. Rodriguez, who is single, moved to St. Cloud nine years ago by himself from the U.S. island territory, where all his family still lives.
It turned out that Rodriguez had suffered from double pneumonia, coupled with another viral lung infection and woke up a month later in March, unaware of all that had transpired.  But he pulled through.
However, a picture soon became clear.
Not only did Baker, Hewitt and Lovejoy step up to care for him, but city of St. Cloud employees pitched in to help Rodriguez, donating money to pay his rent and utility bills when he was in the hospital. They also collectively donated 232 days of vacation time to Rodriguez so he didn’t miss one paycheck while he was convalescing.
“There was grace everywhere you looked,” Lovejoy said. “Miracles happen everyday.”
After another month of intense physical rehabilitation, Rodriguez was released from the hospital and back to work on light duty by early May, two days before his birthday.
“Now I’m walking and I’m alive and I give thanks to God that everyone helped me,” Rodriguez said. “My sister said: ‘Man, you got good friends. They did everything to help you and find us.’”
Baker, Hewitt and Lovejoy all said Rodriguez is a humble man who works, acts and speaks from kindness.  They insist he would have done the same thing for them or anyone else in need.
“I come from a big family – nine sisters and two brothers. Now my family is bigger,” said Rodriguez, who lost 72 pounds and quit smoking during his crisis. “I can’t look at my coworkers the same. Everything has changed.”
Thanks to them, he said: “This is my second chance.”
Contact freelancer Charlie Reed at: