Giffords Intern Had Nurse Training

Daniel Hernandez, Jr., is the Congressional intern that President Obama praised as a hero during last night's memorial service in Tucson. Hernandez, who is a University of Arizona student and a certified nursing assistant is credited with keeping the Congresswoman Garbrielle Giffords alive before medics arrived. Hernandez tells his story to host Michel Martin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Did President Obama manage to unite the country, however briefly, with his words last night in Tucson? We'll talk about the challenge of being the consoler-in-chief with two former White House speechwriters.

But first, to the congressional intern whose quick response, many people say, helped keep Congress Gabrielle Giffords alive and functioning after she was shot at point-blank range. Daniel Hernandez is a political science student from the University of Arizona. And just last night, at the Tucson memorial, he offered his perspective on what happened for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from home.

DANIEL HERNANDEZ: On Saturday, we all became Arizonans, and above all, we all became Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HERNANDEZ: Despite the horrific actions that were taken on Saturday, where so many were lost, we saw glimmers of hope. These glimmers of hope come from people who are the real heroes. Although I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word hero, because I am not one.

MARTIN: That was, as we said, last night. And President Obama, by the way, made a point of disagreeing with Mr. Hernandez, saying that, again, he was, in fact, a hero. And he's with us now from Tucson.

Daniel Hernandez, thank you so much for joining us.

HERNANDEZ: Thanks for having me, Michel. And can I actually say, I've been a long-time listener, and I've loved your show. And I wish it was under better circumstances that I was on today.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for saying that. It's a pleasure to meet you. And I agree with you. I'm sorry that we're meeting under these circumstances. But I'm glad we're having a chance to meet. And I'm not going to debate the word hero with you here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: But your poise under pressure has really touched so many people. And I think the real question everybody has for you is: Where does it come from?

HERNANDEZ: I think I've always just had the strange ability to kind of work under pressure and to shut off my emotions to get stuff done because I thrive when I'm under stress. And I think one place where it actually came in handy was Saturday, because before then, it was usually for big homework assignments, not anything of real consequence.

MARTIN: Can you just remind us of - had you had any medical training before Saturday? Training in CPR, or anything like that?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. I had just the most basic training. In high school, I completed a course to become a certified nursing assistant and a phlebotomist, who is the technician that draws blood in a hospital or in a clinic. I worked briefly in a hospital. But I actually never even took my examinations to become fully certified because I was doing an internship with Gabby's congressional campaign in 2008, and I just ended up missing it and I kept putting it off.

MARTIN: How did you get interested in Congresswoman Giffords' campaign? How did you meet her?

HERNANDEZ: In 2007 and early 2008, I was actually on the Hillary Clinton campaign. I was an intern for them. And that peaked my interest in politics. But once her campaign ended in June, I knew I wanted to keep going. And I was looking for someone whom I could work for that I would be proud to work for. And I had followed her career for years.

She is someone who is a trailblazer, because she was in the Arizona state House and the state Senate, and then a Democrat who had won a seat in a Republican- leaning district. So she was just someone who was inspirational politically, but also someone who, once you met as a person, she is the kindest, warmest human being you will ever meet in your entire life. So that just drew me to her.

MARTIN: And all the more reason why I think a lot of people might - somebody who you were personally close to, care a lot about, seeing that person injured, you might freeze. And for you to run toward the chaos, as opposed to away from it, is something that I think a lot of people are very moved and impressed by. Do you have any recollection of what was going through your mind?

HERNANDEZ: I think the detachment that I can have emotionally kind of allows me to have a better view of everything that happens. So when I heard the gunshots, I knew she would likely be the target, but probably not the only victim, because I'm sure that whoever the shooter was would be shooting indiscriminately once they started.

MARTIN: Well, it's been quite a couple of days, just awful situation on Saturday. And then here you are, a couple of days later, she survived and you're sitting next to the president and her husband, and it's just been a quite a couple of days. And I'm just wondering how you're taking it all in.

HERNANDEZ: It's absolutely surreal to go from such great sadness and loss to kind of, as a community and as a nation, move forward in our grieving process, because last night was absolutely a great step forward in bringing everyone together. So it was absolutely surreal. Because not only was I there with the president of the United States, but I was sitting next to people whom I've admired for years and that I never thought I'd have the opportunity to meet, let alone to talk in front of, like Sandra Day O'Connor, Nancy Pelosi, both of the senators from Arizona. And, of course, I wish it was under absolutely different circumstances, but it's just been amazing.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that you're still taking it all in. What is next for you?

HERNANDEZ: Getting back to the Giffords office as soon as they'll have me. It's still a congressional office, and it's short-staffed. But I also want to make sure that as I move forward, I get some semblance of normalcy back into my life. So I want to continue my education. So I'm going to be starting probably within a few days at school, because the last thing that I think Gabby would want at this point is something like this to completely disrupt everything. I think for her, it would be important to us to kind of go back to normalcy.

MARTIN: Daniel Hernandez is an intern in the office of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and he joined us from Tucson, Arizona.

Daniel Hernandez, thank you so much for joining us, and our very best wishes to you.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you so much, Michel.

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