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What Can You Do?

Master-at-Arms Uses Training to Save Child

It began like any other day for Chief Master-at-Arms Joseph Pellicano: the familiar routine of waking up, putting on his uniform and getting in his car to drive to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Florida.



He had no idea he would remember Jan. 16 for the rest of his life.

As he turned down a small road nearing the entrance to the base, everything stopped. Two cars had collided just moments earlier. A red pickup truck was smashed into the side of a small SUV, broken glass littered the road, steam and smoke filled the air, and cars slowed and stopped to observe the damage.

"Honestly, I was thinking about just going around," said Pellicano.

As he got closer to the scene, he saw something that changed his mind: A woman ran out from one of the damaged cars, blood on her head, screaming for help.

That's when Pellicano knew he needed to help. His career as a master-at-arms in the Navy had provided him with constant first aid and CPR training. As a result, he possessed the knowledge and preparation he needed to be more than just a bystander.

"I knew I had to stop and help out in any way I could," said Pellicano. "As a master-at-arms, we're trained in first aid, so I knew there was something I could do. I had no idea what I was stumbling into at the time."

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As he pulled over and exited his vehicle, Pellicano could clearly hear the woman. "Someone please save my baby!" she screamed.

"At that point, my heart kind of sank," said Pellicano. "I knew I had to do something."

He sprinted toward her, now able to see the young boy in her arms. The child was limp and not moving. She shook him and begged him to wake up. After quickly assessing the scene, Pellicano jumped into action, instructing the woman to place her son on the ground so he could begin administering CPR.

Pellicano instructed an onlooker to call for an ambulance, then focused his attention on the boy. The situation looked grim at first - the child had no pulse and was bleeding.

"It was very surreal - my body was just kind of moving to what we were trained to do," said Pellicano.

He gave the child CPR with no result for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the boy gasped for air. Pellicano continued his efforts, and the child gasped again, this time moving his legs.

"It was amazing," said Pellicano. "I looked over at the mother and it looked like she had hope again."

Sirens blared over the sounds of the accident, and in a whirlwind of activity, paramedics ran onto the scene and evacuated the child and his mother, leaving Pellicano at the scene.

"It didn't really dawn on me at the time what had happened," he said. "It wasn't until I was driving home when it hit me that, 'Wow, that just happened.'"


That wasn't where his involvement ended, however. The boy, now known to be 17-month-old Kaysin Willis, had a traumatic brain injury, a broken leg and internal bleeding, and had to be put in an induced coma at the hospital. As his treatment progressed, Pellicano regularly visited Kaysin and his mother, Rebekah, to comfort them.

At every step of the way, he said numerous doctors and nurses would tell him that his CPR efforts on the scene may well have saved Kaysin's life.

"I'm just glad I was there. I don't know what would have happened if I wasn't there, but I'm just happy I was," he said.

A little more than a month later, Kaysin made a full recovery.

"He was moving. He was smiling. He grabbed my hand," said Pellicano. "It went from so grim to just amazing. He's doing awesome now."

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The next few months were a blur for Pellicano - he was recognized for his actions by both Congressman Matt Gaetz and his chain of command, and even had a day named in his honor by the City of Milton, Florida, where the accident happened. On top of that, he was selected for chief petty officer.

"I would like to extend my gratitude to MA1 Pellicano for his valiant efforts that resulted in saving this young child's life," read the remarks submitted by Gaetz to the Congressional Record. "His exceptional character is evidenced by his courageous and extraordinary actions."

Above all else, Pellicano credits the extensive training he received in the Navy for his actions that day. As a master-at-arms, Pellicano has to re-certify his CPR training at least every three years, which helped it become muscle memory when the time came to use it in a real-world scenario.

"The Navy's constantly training us to be active bystanders," he said. "We have to be active. We have to know what we're doing. We have to take the training seriously - because how else are we going to fight the fight and get the mission accomplished?"

For other Sailors who may find themselves in a similar situation, Pellicano offered some advice:

"Whether it's just for you to stop and call 911, every little bit helps," he said. "Just stop and see what you can do, and then do it. That's what we're trained to do. You never know how you could impact someone's life."