DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
California Highway Patrol officer Javier Ruvalcaba stands next to Mia Gonzalez, 22, at a recent meeting of the Madera Evening Lions Club. Both Ruvalcaba and Gonzalez, an honorary Fresno firefighter spoke and were honored for their efforts at the dinner. The two met on a traffic stop when the Madera CHP officer recognized a need he could help with.
A 22-year-old disabled honorary firefighter, Mia Gonzalez, was assisted twice by the California Highway Patrol, once in a very unexpected way.
Gonzalez had been a volunteer firefighter for two years and had worked on the Paradise and other deadly northern California wildfires when she was accepted at the Fresno Fire Academy.
“I was halfway through the Fresno Academy when I fell 50 feet down a cliff in a roadside hiking accident in Sequoia National Park. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t feel my legs,” she said. Gonzalez was flown by CHP helicopter Lifeflight to Community Regional Medical Center for treatment that day.
The second contact with CHP was in Madera County when she was stopped for speeding on Highway 152 in June.
“It was my first time driving any distance and with the hand controls I had just purchased online.” Gonzalez said “I wasn’t doing too well and not paying attention, just trying to follow other traffic when I got stopped by officer Javier Ruvalcaba. It took just a second — but I knew by the look in his eyes what kind of person he was ... caring and concerned ... when he saw my wheelchair, my not so great hand controls, and he asked me about my situation,” she said.
Ruvalcaba, a 15-year veteran with Madera CHP, said the hand control situation did not look adequate or safe to him, so he later reached out to a few local friends to see if they could help him raise some money to help equip Gonzalez’ older Chevy pickup with sturdier hand controls.
The two kept in touch and Ruvalcaba, a hobby mechanic and car enthusiast, managed to raise about $2,400 from friends to purchase and assist with the professional installation of the new and safer hand controls at The Mobility Center of Fresno.
“You could just tell by her optimistic and upbeat spirit she wasn’t going to give up, even after all she had been through. She’s now working part time with Fresno Fire Department and driving herself to physical therapy. How could you not help a young person ... facing and fighting life challenges like that? Ruvalcaba said.
Gonzalez said she was amazed at the outpouring of support and the outcome from a chance traffic stop, and all the Maderans who had stepped forward to aid her. “I am so thankful for all this help and support. It’s been quite a journey, but I’m optimistic ... I may even be able walk again. I’m going to keep at it,” she said with a smile.
She was recently the recipient of applause after speaking at a meeting of the Madera Evening Lions Club.
A Go Fund Me account has been established to help with Mia’s ongoing costs of mobility equipment and physical therapy, which are not currently covered by her insurance (http://www.gofundme.com/f/help-ffdmember-walk-again.