Washington, DC – An Army officer assigned to the White House medical evaluation and treatment unit received a lifesaving award April 6 from the acting director of the Secret Service, and several agents also received awards at the ceremony for saving his life days later.
Army Lt. Col. James Jones, the physician assistant to the president’s physician and director of the medical evaluation and treatment unit at the White House, was on a presidential detail with the Secret Service last fall, hiking at 18,000-feet elevations in Peru’s Andes Mountains.
On September 26, 2016, Jones rescued a Secret Service agent who he had determined had a buildup of fluid in his lungs resulting from high altitude exposure. A week later, Jones rescued two US students on a detail hike who developed malnutrition and the same malady as the agent. One of the students also later developed fluid on the brain from the high altitude.
Five days later, Jones fell victim to a venomous pit viper bite during a treacherous detail hike, losing consciousness twice and suffering numerous severe reactions.
Jones Praises Agents Who Saved Him
Jones received the 2017 Director’s Lifesaving Citation for his efforts in treating the agent and students, while numerous Secret Service agents received citations for saving Jones’ life.
“We were there to thank them for what they did for me,” said Jones, who attended the ceremony with his wife. He was surprised that the Secret Service also was honoring him.
“I’m a medical guy,” he said. “I’m supposed to do that on a day-to-day basis.”
Jones called the 11 agents who had a hand in saving his life from the venomous viper “a very compassionate group of people with a lot of skill,” especially in an austere environment. “The Secret Service is one of the most professional groups in the world,” he said, “but the [group with which he was on detail] in Peru was a notch above.”
Jones Credits Secret Service
Jones gives full credit to the Secret Service agents for saving his life. The team he was assigned to was on a six-week detail, he said, and he fell ill at the end of the trip. Because he lost consciousness from the snake’s venom, he said, he didn’t know some of the details of his rescue until he heard them in the awards ceremony. The words from the emotional ceremony shook him to the core, he added.
“I knew it already — how close I was to death. It gives you a different perspective realizing it could have been a different story for sure if [the agents] had not intervened.”
Citation: Saving An Agent
According to Jones’ citation, it was during a three-day trip into the summits of the Andes Mountains while in direct support of the Presidential Protective Division when Jones responded to a Secret Service special agent who collapsed on a mountainside trail.
Conducting a quick field assessment, Jones diagnosed the agent had fluid in his lungs as a result of the extreme altitude, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Jones commandeered a pack mule to transport the agent while administering anti-inflammatory medicine and oxygen. He then made the arduous trek to base camp and worked throughout the evening with little to no sleep to make sure the agent’s condition did not deteriorate. After reaching the base camp the following day, Jones coordinated and accompanied the agent on a four-hour drive to the nearest hospital, which was in Cusco, Peru.
Citation: Saving Two Students
On October 4, 2016, during another three-day trip toward a mountain summit, Jones responded to two US students on the hike, diagnosing them with malnutrition and the same malady as the agent. Again without the immediate ability to extract them from the rural mountainside, Jones arranged for several pack mules to carry the students back to the base, and he set up a campsite, treating them throughout the night without a break.
After reaching the base, Jones found one of the students had degenerated with a buildup of fluid on the brain, also from the high altitude. He advised the immediate medical emergency to the control group and both students were taken to the hospital in Cusco by government vehicle.
Jones’ citation noted that in addition to treating the agent and students, he provided medical care to countless indigenous people who traveled days to the base camp to seek care after word spread throughout the austere communities that a doctor was present.
Venomous Snake Bite
On October 9, 2016, a few days after tending to the students, Jones accompanied personnel on a detail hike in the remote outskirts of the Amazon basin in Pilcopata, Peru, when he fell into a dense jungle ravine. Jones tried to continue, but collapsed about a mile and a half into the trail.
Two Secret Service agents responded and assessed his condition. Jones exhibited radiating pain, decreased range of motion in his left arm, constrained and difficult breathing, and fixed-eye dilation.
The agents reversed direction and returned Jones to the base camp.Throughout the ordeal, Jones lost consciousness twice and experienced severe symptoms, including muscular spasms and seizures. Two agents who are emergency medical technicians treated him for shock and dehydration, and Jones was taken by government vehicle to the same hospital in Cusco.
A challenging hike, the mountain’s steep nature and a deluge of rain made conditions even more difficult for the agents to get him back to the base camp, Jones said, expressing his gratitude for their swift actions.
“The agents put their own lives at risk,” the lieutenant colonel said, “taking me off the mountainside in austere conditions.”