Tourist who collapsed near White House calls Secret Service agents ‘guardian angels’

As often as she can, Brenda Quirolo watches the video of a man breathing life back into her.

A surveillance camera near the White House captured the frantic moments on April 24: The 59-year-old tourist from Texas sprawled on Pennsylvania Avenue, three uniformed Secret Service agents rushing to help, one compressing her chest, another giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, her husband of 32 years pacing in the background.

“It’s just so surreal,” she said by phone from her home in the North Texas town of Denison. “How do you even know it’s me laying there? I recognize my tennis shoes. And my husband. I feel like I have to watch.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security presented the agents — Thomas Hammon, William Grimmer and Bryan Koenig — the Medal of Valor. The Secret Service posted the video on its Web site, and while it’s an opportunity for the agency to highlight its work, Quirolo said she watches it to remind her of how close she came to dying after having a heart attack.

“They’re my guardian angels,” she said.

The agents, members of the agency’s uniformed division, were honored during National Police Week, an annual event that draws as many as 40,000 law enforcement officers from around the country to pay respect to those killed in the line of duty.

Hammon, Grimmer and Koenig were patrolling the White House perimeter on a Thursday afternoon last month when Quirolo collapsed near Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street NW. She and her husband, Charles, had just flown into Washington and had gone for a stroll while waiting for their hotel room to be cleaned.

Quirolo said they were walking past the White House when she began having trouble breathing, but she said she wasn’t concerned. She sat down to rest. “I had no indication that I was going unconscious,” she said. “I had no dizziness. The next thing I know, it’s Friday and I’m waking up in a hospital with a whole team of doctors looking at me.”

Quirolo said she and her husband have watched the video over and over again. It picks up with her lying in the street, her husband kneeling next to her. It is Hammon, trained as an emergency medical technician, who is seen giving her chest compressions and using a portable defibrillator. Authorities said she did not have a pulse.

Quirolo said she and her husband live on 22 acres an hour’s drive north of Dallas. She works at an insurance company guiding critically ill patients through their claims; Charles works for an airline. They sell hay in their spare time.

The couple lives far from medical care. If she had collapsed at home, Quirolo said, “no one would have gotten to me quick enough to save my life.”

While she was at George Washington University Hospital, Quirolo’s relatives flew in from Texas to visit her.

She also had some special visitors: The Secret Service agents who saved her came to check on her. And she found a way to give something back. She sent them a Texas treat — Uncle Bob’s barbecue sauce, seasoning and rub.

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