Sunday, May 27, 2007

Young visually impaired woman meets her hero!

She strode out of the door of the Baytown Police Department, and walked purposefully forward to meet someone she couldn’t really see. She is legally blind, but Jaymie Rhoades knew she was looking at the man who saved her life. Rhoades was only 6 months old in 1991 when she suddenly stopped breathing. Her older sister and her mother Cheryl ran out the door screaming, looking for help.

They found Mark Dugat, then a patrol officer with BPD who was at an apartment complex at James Street and Kilgore on another call. Dugat performed CPR on the infant, who began breathing again. Now, 17 years later, Rhoades is a vibrant, bubbly young lady poised to become a teacher for visually impaired students, and Dugat is a technician at Bayer.

But on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the two embraced in a hug 17 years overdue, reunited by yet another twist of fate in this improbable tale. “God had him there for a reason that day,” said Jaymie’s grandmother, Beverly Davis. “And God had Mr. Park at the hospital for a reason.” Sgt. Roger Park was on duty at San Jacinto Methodist Hospital a few weeks ago when Cheryl Rhoades, who was there with her youngest daughter, Lisa, approached him with a question. Did Park know how to get in touch with Mark Dugat?

“I made a few calls, and somebody tracked Mark down,” Park said. “It’s just an absolutely amazing thing.” Dugat, 45, had been looking forward to the meeting for days. He’s often wondered what had become of that beautiful little girl whose head lay in his hands, her body laying across his arm. He found a girl who talks and laughs all the time, looking a bit older than her age. Jaymie didn’t know how she would react to seeing Dugat. What do you say to someone without whom you would not be alive? “Nice to finally meet you,” she said, shaking his hand.

Jaymie was in the hospital for weeks, and doctors told her she probably wouldn’t live past the age of 4, or 5 at the oldest. She suffered severe nerve damage, including her optic nerve, and was completely blind until about 8 years old, when she regained some of her sight. She is now in the ninth grade — she had to repeat several grades because teachers chalked up her problems to a learning disability. She is planning to go Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin. Her family lives in Daisetta near Liberty.

Dugat left police work in 1999 — he said the money was a lot better — but he still looks fondly on his days as a cop, and on people like Jaymie who he was able to help. “If they had called an ambulance or driven her to the hospital, she would have been dead,” Dugat said. “And now look at her. I don’t really have words for it.”


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