DURHAM, NC (March 10, 2014) – Miami Herald staff photojournalist Al Diaz has been presented with NPPA's Humanitarian Award, NPPA president Mark Dolan announced today.
Diaz is being recognized by NPPA for his quick response and selfless actions in summoning help when a five-month-old infant stopped breathing while riding in his aunt's car on a busy Miami expressway on February 20th. Diaz put the welfare of the child first, making sure plenty of qualified responders were on hand, and that CPR was in progress, before he picked up his cameras and started to shoot a series of iconic images of the rescue effort.
NPPA's Humanitarian Award is presented to an individual for "playing a key role in the saving of lives or in rescue situations."
"I think Al's actions exemplify the ethical and humanitarian stand that NPPA has taken over the years," Dolan said today. "It's important for all photojournalists to remember that you don't have to lay down your humanity when you pick up a camera. All did just that, he put the welfare of the child first and made sure he did all that he could do, and it wasn't until he realized that things were well in other people's sure hands that he took up his camera and began making images. And they were incredible images at that."
The photographs Diaz shot that afternoon very quickly went viral on the Internet and social media spread the word globally. Within hours the photojournalist was deluged with requests for interviews, live television news shots on CNN and CBS News, and his phone didn't stop ringing for several days. One of the images graces the cover of the March issue of News Photographer magazine, with more photographs and Diaz recounting the progression of events in a story inside the magazine.
The story started when Diaz was stuck in slow-moving traffic on the Dolphin Expressway near the Miami airport when he heard someone screaming. At first he thought it might be his car radio or some other car's music, but then the car in front of him stopped and a frantic woman jumped out with an infant in her arms. The child was turning deep blue and not breathing.
The motorist, Pamela Rauseo, was distraught. The baby, her nephew Sebastian de la Cruz, had stopped breathing. Later Diaz learned that the child had been born premature and had an existing respiratory problem, but no one on the highway at that point were concerned with his medical history. All the motorists who were stopping knew was that a baby wasn't breathing.
Motorist Lucila Godoy of Miami left her 3-year-old safely strapped in his car seat to help Rauseo start CPR. Diaz raced up and down the cars until he found Sweetwater police officer Amauris Bastidas in his car, and he ran to the women to take over CPR. For a moment the child started to breath on his own again before he stopped breathing again, and the frantic trio started CPR once again.
When two Miami-Date Fire Rescue officers arrived and EMTs were dispatched and on their way, Diaz realized matters were well in hand. That's when he ran back to his car and grabbed cameras. It was time to start shooting pictures.
Interviewed that night for News Photographer magazine, Diaz said, "I felt like I needed to be a humanitarian first, and then a photojournalist. When things calmed down, that's when I got my cameras. To me there's no question, you've got to be a humanitarian first."
The day after the incident, the baby was in stable but serious condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital. As the days went by, reporter Brenda Medina of the Herald followed-up on the child's condition. Doctors discovered that there were three cysts growing in the baby's trachea that were making it difficult for him to breathe.
At a news conference the child's parents said that without the incident on the highway, they might never have discovered the baby's medical condition or had the surgery that saved him until it was too late. One week after the roadside drama the baby was stable and was released from the hospital. A trust fund was establish for the baby and his young parents, and it is online at babyseba.com. Five days ago Diaz tweeted a photograph (below) which ran with a Herald story updating the child's condition.