DADE CITY — Candace Moniz knew something wasn't quite right with Chelsea Hall the moment the Centennial Middle School eighth-grader stepped onto Moniz's school bus Thursday morning.
"She didn't look like she felt so good," Moniz said. "I kept an eye on her. About four, five stops later, the kids started calling, 'Miss! Miss! She's throwing up.' "
So Moniz, a Pasco County school bus driver for just three weeks, did just as she was trained. She pulled the bus to the side of the road, radioed in to dispatch for an ambulance and tended to Chelsea until paramedics arrived.
"I didn't do anything medical," said Moniz, 35, who has a 14-year-old daughter of her own. "I just sat there and held her hand and let her know help is on its way."
Not far from her mind was the knowledge of an incident in January on a Hillsborough County school bus where a driver's decision not to call 911 ended with a 7-year-old girl's death. The girl's parents are suing the district.
"That was in the back of my head," she said Friday. "I made the call (to dispatch) immediately. Don't waste time."
Her quick action paid off. Chelsea, in the midst of an emergency that sent her heart rate skyrocketing, got to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills in time for needed medical attention.
"She saved my daughter's life," Joseph Hall, a substitute teacher, said Friday from his daughter's hospital room. "If it wasn't for the bus driver doing what she did, and the kids on the bus doing what they did, we would probably be in a different story."
Centennial Middle principal Rick Saylor said the students on the bus quickly quieted down so Moniz could manage the situation as it unfolded. Two children volunteered to more actively help, including monitoring the bus two-way radio while the driver tended to their friend, who had become nonresponsive.
"They were just so well behaved," Saylor said of the students, while also calling Moniz's efforts "outstanding."
The school recognized their efforts Friday morning with doughnuts.
District transportation director Gary Sawyer also praised Moniz for following department procedures perfectly. In medical emergencies, drivers are trained to contact dispatch and ask for help.
That's the recommended action mostly because the buses are all equipped with two-way radios, he said, and not with cell phones. If drivers have phones and prefer to call 911 directly, that's perfectly acceptable, and drivers know that, he said.
"They're professional drivers," he said. "We count on them to make the proper decisions."
Moniz said the other drivers on the dispatch system left the lines open as soon as they heard the emergency call, so she could have uninterrupted contact with her supervisors.
She was grateful that everything turned out well for Chelsea, 13, whom she planned to visit in the hospital Friday after getting off work.
"I didn't do anything heroic," she said. "I just did my job."
Don't tell that to Joseph Hall. To him, Moniz is every inch a hero.
"I couldn't have asked for anything better," he said. "She's top notch in my book."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.