Friends of Claudia Gonzalez know she is a strong-willed single mom of six kids and each day she works, the money goes toward making ends meet at home. They also know she did not have health insurance.
So each time she fainted at work, they would give her smelling salts. She would come to and get back to work at the restaurant. In the 1970s, one packet of smelling salts would bring back a professional football player from the hardest hit after a blow to the head.
On Sept. 27, Gonzalez went down again, and this time, several packs of smelling salts did not work. A worker at Casa Ole rushed out the door and saw a city of Tyler Police car at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for Kids of East Texas. The car was there because Tyler Police Sgt. Matt Leigeber was holding a fundraiser for foster children.
Sgt. Leigeber ran over to the restaurant, saw employees doing chest compressions, checked Gonzalez and realized she was having a seizure. He performed CPR and saved her life.
The six children, Brandon, 13, Meredith, 10, Leah, 8, Allison, 6, Victoria, 5 and Axel, 2, would not be foster children this Christmas.
Sgt. Leigeber not only saved her life that day, but he and two others on the Hispanic Advisory Committee helped pay for an MRI. The doctors are awaiting results from that MRI.
“The two heroes were the employees at Casa Ole doing chest compressions,” said Sgt. Leigeber, who had raised over $5,000 for CASA thanks to a “Caught Doing Good for Kids,” campaign and his viral video #GitUpChallenge with over 1.2 million views. The money went to train volunteers who in turn help foster children in Smith, Wood and Van Zandt counties.
But the help did not end there. Sgt. Leigeber wanted to know about the woman he saved. He reached out to Paulina Pedroza who connected the police officer to the victim.
“It was a miracle. For two days I didn’t even recognize my kids or my family,” said Gonzalez. “I didn’t even recognize myself.”
Sgt. Leigeber realized she needed the MRI and he even started taking Spanish classes to help communicate with the family.
“Paulina is very connected in the community. She is well-respected in the Hispanic community and our concern was how is Claudia going to handle six kids with this condition,” said Sgt. Leigeber. “When we met up with Claudia, she said, ‘I have to fight this for my kids.’ Paulina has helped rally the community.”
Last week, the two reunited, this time with all of the kids during the Blue Santa Shop with a Cop program. And of course, Sgt. Leigeber was partnered with Claudia Gonzalez and her kids. When the toys exceeded the amount of donated funds, Sgt. Leigeber quietly reached in his pocket for the extra money. After helping them load up, he had another item on his list. Just before Christmas, he delivered a new car seat.
At Walmart, the kids stopped before the register and one-by-one thanked the man who saved their mom and Christmas.
“I am really thankful Officer Matt saved my mother’s life. If it was not for him, my mom would not be with us now ... thank you,” said Brandon.
Meredith said, “I am very thankful to Officer Matt for saving my mom’s life. If it was not for him, we would not have a mother and someone with the same love for us.”
Leah added, “I am thankful for him because he saved my mom’s life.” Allison and Victoria both thanked him for the presents and making them happy. Then, Victoria and little Axel cried and hugged mom and the police officer in the middle of Walmart.
Wiping away tears, Gonzalez said, “Never did I think I would be shopping like this for my kids. It is something very wonderful. I thank God (Sgt. Leigeber) was in the right place at the right time to save my life and make my kids happy. I have no money at all from paying medical bills. And I do not know what is going on.”
And once again, the police officer refused to take the credit.
“I think this was meant for me as much as it was for her. She needed help, it was very obvious, with six kids,” said Sgt. Leigeber. “Her kids are super fun, I’ve spent some time with them since the incident. Everyone needs help sometimes, I was just honored to help.”
UPDATE: An account at Verbank has been set up to assist the family. You can visit any Verabank and donate any amount to the Claudia Gonzalez Emergency Fund.