Blog posts tagged in Nursing heroes

Posted by on in Blog
hope walk resized 600

Demonstrating a dedication to their calling even before entering the workforce, Cami Abernethy and Alissa Boyle made a decision almost eight months ago that has since left them forever changed.


In the morning darkness of February 20, 2012, an SUV came to a stop on its side with its roof facing on-coming traffic, blocking the left lane of I-79S in Perry Township, Pa. A local man had fallen asleep at the wheel and was unable to free himself from the vehicle.


Cami and Alissa, along with seven classmates and a professor, stopped at the scene even though they were en route to their clinical nursing studies in Morgantown, W. Va.


After pulling the stranger out of his vehicle through a hole in the windshield, the nursing students were assessing his medical condition when an oncoming tractor-trailer came barreling toward them. A few of the students quickly realized the tractor-trailer would be unable to stop, but as a result of the darkness, they did not realize they were on a bridge.


In the seconds that followed, the students fled for safety, reacting quickly to the oncoming danger. Cami and Alissa jumped over the cement barrier of the bridge, thinking they would land safely on the other side. Instead, they fell approximately 50 feet to the ground below and looked to their classmates for help in the moments that followed. The paramedics arrived and both women were taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital where they received operations related to their respective injuries.


In the weeks before the accident, both women counted down the days to graduation and talked about what the Lord had in store for their lives. In fact, just two days before the accident, on February 18, Alissa said yes to the man of her dreams when he asked for her hand in marriage. Little did they know that their lives would soon be forever changed both physically and spiritually.


For Cami, the initial plan was a second surgery six months after the first, to make sure that the rods placed in her back during the first surgery were the appropriate size for her body. That six month date has come and gone, and fortunately for Cami, her doctors determined that the surgery was not necessary at this point. As long as the rods are not causing her pain, Cami will not have to undergo surgery to adapt the size of the rods.


Following her first surgery, Cami was encouraged to walk as much as physically possible. So with her father by her side, she did just that.


“My father and I went to the park every day. I started with a half lap and worked my way to three laps and bleacher steps,” she said.


When her doctor had determined that her back had healed enough to begin physical therapy, Cami embraced the opportunity and spent three months building strength and range of motion.


Following the three months of therapy, Cami has continued to progress on her own using techniques introduced through her physical therapy sessions. Her progress slowly blossomed from lifting one gallon to 25 pounds to 50 pounds, where she is today.


Although Cami has remained positive and focused through the last eight months, she continues to battle the lasting effects of the day of the accident.


“The accident temporarily put my life on hold. I'm now to the place in my life where I should be because I've graduated and I have a career. I have no complaints because I can continue to travel the path I started before the accident,” she said.


Unwilling to let the accident further slow her goals, Cami finished school a month and a half ago and received word September 20 that she had passed her boards. She recently accepted a position with Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in the neonatal intensive care unit and began working October 8.


“I'm definitely more motivated to succeed in life because I've received an extraordinary gift, and that's a second chance at life,” she said. “I have realized that February 20th wasn't my time to go and that there's something here on this earth that I need to complete before I leave. I want to make sure I do that, whatever it may be! This experience has driven me to be the best I can be and help as many people as I can during my time here.”


Cami said she has “no words to describe the thanks I have for my friends, family and the Waynesburg community.” She is also grateful that her friend Alissa has been by her side through her entire recovery process.


“I know she feels the same way. I know it sounds wrong to say, but we both have said we feel blessed to have gone through this together and not alone,” she said.


Both women feel grateful to their classmates for the way they responded to their injuries.


“My fellow nursing students saved our lives that day and they are my heroes. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else taking care of me that morning.”


As for the community, Cami said there was not a day that went by where she did not receive a card, flowers or a phone call.


“Knowing that people were praying for me and cared about me, kept me going,” she said. “And of course I owe my family the world for helping me through. Alissa and I are blessed to have all these wonderful people in our lives.”


For Alissa, the challenges have been more significant as she has not regained feeling in her lower limbs. Since the accident, Alissa has experienced two surgeries (February 20 and February 29). The first involved the insertion of rods and the use of a piece of bone from her hip to fuse her spine together where burst fractures were located, and the second involved the removal of swelling and bone fragments. After the second surgery, Alissa learned that her spinal cord is bruised and that her injury is one that has unclear outcomes.


Undeterred and convinced that she will one day walk again, Alissa has chosen to fight. She continues to have checkups with her neurosurgeon and rehabilitation specialist and also has access to her family physician for any problems related to her spinal cord injury.


Twice per week, Alissa experiences hour-long therapy sessions involving electrode pads on her muscles that stimulate her muscles to peddle the bike. With each therapy session, Alissa notices improvements and has had some change in feelings in her legs. Her normal feeling goes halfway down her thigh, and she is able to tell where her therapist is moving her legs (bringing her knee to her chest or pulling her leg in or out). At this point, she is still unable to sense the movement of her foot.


“My life has changed a lot,” she said. “There are days that life is really hard, but I know I have to do everything possible to walk again and I can't give up.”


According to Alissa, her “amazing support system” will not allow her to give up.


“My family and friends have helped me so much. They treat me the same, which is really important to me because sometimes I feel different, especially when people stare.”


Although Alissa admits to having days where she wonders, “why me,” she knows that ultimately she wouldn't change a thing.


“I do sometimes wonder, ‘why am I going through all this pain,' but then I think it could be worse – that there is someone out there that is suffering worse than I am. I know that God has a plan for me and I just need to leave it in his hands.”


Alissa is currently finishing up her Waynesburg University coursework online and plans to continue to work toward her goal of becoming a nurse. After spending four years preparing to be a bedside nurse, Alissa is now thinking about other specialized areas that would allow her to utilize her skills.


“I have always enjoyed cardiac or the heart, but after having a spinal cord injury I might do something related to that.”


Alissa walks in her braces each day, which allowed her to walk down the aisle in her brother's wedding in July. In the spirit of love, in the middle of the dance floor, her fiancé picked her up to slow dance and assured her that she was still “the same woman he asked to marry him.” Ironically, her trip down the aisle was the perfect practice run for her own wedding set for September 7, 2013.


Assisted by Jamie's Dream Team, an organization created in 2005 to lift the spirits of those suffering from, and ease the burden caused by, serious illness, injury, disability or trauma, Alissa has immersed herself in wedding planning.


“I am going to work as hard as I can to walk again, but there is only so much I can do, and the rest I have to leave to God and His plan for me,” she said.


Unwilling to give up anytime soon, Alissa said she hopes that it is God's will for her to walk again, as she dreams of being an inspiration to those around her, to show others that “nothing is impossible.”


Cami also has an upcoming wedding set for May 24, 2013, and Alissa will be by her side as a bridesmaid, another practice walk down the aisle in anticipation of her own wedding. The two know that their journey together, including their upcoming marriages to best friends who met in the Army before the women were even roommates, has created a lifelong friendship.


Since the accident, the Waynesburg University community, along with the support of family, friends and complete strangers, has come together to raise more than $35,000 for the Cami and Alissa Fund, created to relieve financial burdens for both families.

Hits: 2679

Posted by on in Blog
soracco  20120513 0310 resized 600

A profound, life-changing chain of events reveals that heroes exist amongst us at Waynesburg University.

Nine recent nursing graduates and an associate professor of nursing became heroes in the eyes of many when, after stopping to rescue a man struggling to escape from his overturned SUV as numerous vehicles swerved by him, an unanticipated turn of events forced them to rescue each other.

“The students rose to the occasion and recognized that life is a gift from God,” said Nancy Mosser, chair of the Nursing Department at Waynesburg University. “The experience altered their lives and their outlook on life.”

It all started when the nurses-in-training followed their calling to serve and to heal.

In the morning darkness of February 20, 2012, an SUV come to a stop on its side with its roof facing on-coming traffic, blocking the left lane of I-79S in Perry Township, Pa.

Derek Hartzog, 21, of Washington, Pa., had fallen asleep at the wheel.

On his way to Morgantown, W.Va., for clinical nursing studies, Zachary Sargent witnessed the accident. He immediately pulled over, called 911 to report the accident and ran to Hartzog's vehicle to help. Within seconds, other senior nursing students also traveling to clinical came upon the scene and stopped to offer assistance. Those students included Cami Abernethy, Alissa Boyle, Joshua Brewer, Christina Hecker, Chelsea Knepp, Noah Pust, Clayton Reiber and Rebekah Reyes.

“Derek couldn't get out of his vehicle,” Sargent said. “I had to pull him out through a hole in the windshield.”

After Hartzog was pulled to safety, the students assessed his medical condition.

“I felt relief in knowing that the victim was healthy physically, and all we had to do was calm him down,” Abernethy said. “Unfortunately, at that time, we did not know we were standing on an overpass.”

When associate professor of nursing Dr. Sara Clutter, also on her way to clinical, arrived at the scene, she pulled her vehicle to the right side of the road beyond the accident and the students and she, too, dialed 911.

“I was talking with the dispatcher when I heard someone yell, ‘Get out of the way! The truck is going to hit us!'” Dr. Clutter said.

The students were helping Hartzog contact his family when they heard the same warning that a truck was approaching in the left lane – the lane in which they were standing between the disabled vehicle and the on-coming tractor trailer.

“I saw lights coming right at us, and I was able to see that it was a tractor trailer,” Abernethy said. “The truck was not slowing down, and I knew I would be killed if I didn't move.”

In the seconds that followed, each student had to make instantaneous decisions to save their own lives. Sargent grabbed Knepp's arm and pulled her to safety further down the road past Dr. Clutter's vehicle. Abernethy, Boyle, Brewer and Hartzog jumped over the barrier at the edge of the left lane.

It was not until that moment, in the darkness of the morning, that they realized the accident had occurred on a bridge. Assuming their jump over the cement barrier would land them safely on the shoulder of the road, Abernethy, Boyle and Hartzog instead fell off the bridge some 40 to 50 feet to the ground below.

“The fall felt like forever,” Abernethy said. “I had no idea when I was going to hit the ground since my eyes were to the night sky.”

As Brewer jumped, he realized he was on a bridge and was able to grasp the barrier before falling.

Pust, also realizing he was about to jump off of a bridge, straddled the barrier instead and was then able to pull Brewer back over the barrier to safety. The tractor trailer pushed Hartzog's vehicle about 10 feet, coming to a stop inches from Pust's leg.

“All I remember is that I was about to jump over with the others when something told me to stop and just straddle the side,” Pust said. “I have to thank God for giving me that thought.”

As the shock set in, the uninjured students ran down the steep, muddy embankment to the roadside below on which their friends and Hartzog had fallen. The three were lying in a bed of silt and briars, their limbs tangled with each other's. No one was moving.

“We thought they were dead,” Sargent said.

The students got to work helping Abernethy, Boyle and Hartzog, and after a few seconds that felt like an eternity, Sargent returned to the highway to help Dr. Clutter down the hill.

“Dr. Clutter is a very calming person,” Sargent said. “She had complete confidence in us, and that made us more confident that we could handle the situation.”

After the students gave their professor a quick assessment of Abernethy, Boyle and Hartzog's conditions, Dr. Clutter took the lead and began matching the students' skill sets with the needs of the three injured.

“The students remained calm and filled their roles effectively,” she said. “They used therapeutic communication to keep their classmates calm and unmoving, held their hands and did everything they could to make them comfortable.”

From Reyes' nursing bag, the students distributed gloves and gauze to those working on the injured while residents of a nearby house provided towels, blankets and flashlights.

“Caring for my friends in the freezing cold mud was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” Pust said. “I knew what to do and how to do it. Although I was still in shock and terrified from the whole ordeal, I was able to think clearly, and my classmates and I were able to provide the correct care to the injured.”

When the police and ambulances arrived, paramedics took over the care of the victims.

“I didn't even hear the sirens,” Dr. Clutter said. “I had a mission, and I was completely caught up in that mission.”

Abernethy said she was blessed that her classmates were present.

“They knew exactly what to do to care for us, mentally and physically, until the paramedics arrived,” she said.

Abernethy suffered fractured vertebrae and a rod has been surgically inserted into her back. She is at home recovering from her injuries.

“Right now, my health is better than I could have ever imagined,” Abernethy said. “Faith has played a huge rule in my recovery. It was an act of God that we all lived through the fall, and that made me realize that it wasn't my time to go. I have yet to complete what I was put on this earth to do, and that day proved it to me.”

Boyle suffered a spinal cord injury that has left her without sensory and motor function of her lower limbs. In addition, her fractured vertebrae were stabilized by the insertion of a rod into her back. Following two surgeries and a stay in a rehabilitation facility, she is at home learning to walk again.

“The way we were raised by our parents and then the way we were shaped in Waynesburg University's nursing program helped us to make the decisions we made that day,” Abernethy said. “If I had to relive that day, I would still stop.” 


Hits: 2814