Many have experienced it. You’re driving along the road when, suddenly, you witness or come upon an accident. Sometimes, help is already on site or the crash victims appear to be unharmed and handling the matter on their own. Other times, the level of severity is unclear, leaving you with the decision to 1) stop; or 2) continue on. For some, making the choice is tough; for a carful of Clarkson College Nursing students, there was no time for deliberation.

The day was going as expected. After attending orientation at their clinical site in Papillion on the afternoon of Feb. 22, third-year Nursing students Emily Duren, Brandi Klotthor and Jessica Patterson rode together in Patterson’s car to a nearby Panera Bread restaurant. Driving in the same direction in separate vehicles were their classmates, Carlie Anzalone, Megan Hillmer and Ryan Sheehy.

Firemen work to put out a small fire igniting from the back right tire of the crash victim's vehicle.

As the students drove north toward 72nd and Centennial Streets, they noticed a dense mass of smoke straight ahead. As they drew closer, they encountered a vehicle surrounded by five to seven construction workers. Slowing down the vehicle, Patterson asked her classmates if they should stop and help. Duren immediately responded, “Yes, we have to.”

Patterson pulled the vehicle to the side of the road. As she and Duren jumped out, Klotthor turned on the hazard lights. Running down the hill toward the smoking truck, the girls yelled at the construction workers, asking if someone was inside. “Yes, are you nurses?” they responded. “Yes,” said the girls—“we’re students.”

They called out at Klotthor to grab her stethoscope from the car. “We just jumped into ‘nurse mode,’ and I remember hoping he was alive,” said Patterson.

The front half of the truck was submerged in two feet of water with the wheels spinning and splashing up mud. An electrician pulled over just prior to the students and used a sledge hammer to break out the back window to gain access to the victim, who appeared unconscious as his foot lay on the gas pedal.

Standing on the running board of the truck and placing her hand in the broken glass window, Patterson pulled herself inside to find the victim seat-belted in with his head hanging and blood coming from his mouth. Duren stood on the running board opposite of Patterson and was also able to reach the victim.

Student Jessica Patterson, along with firefighters and paramedics, at the accident site.

“I unzipped his coat and reached my stethoscope down his shirt,” said Patterson. “He was diaphoretic and had labored, slow breaths.” Their quick assessment led Duren to one conclusion—“I think he had a seizure,” she said to Patterson. They detected a heartbeat and were able to find a bounding pulse. At this time, the students stayed with the victim, counting and listening to his palpitations and keeping his neck in position until the Omaha Fire Department (OFD) arrived. Anzalone, Hillmer and Sheehy, who also pulled over to assist, were on standby at the top of the hill.

As the students provided their testimonials for the police report, the firefighters wheeled out the victim on a stretcher. He was in a C-collar and responsive to small commands, signaling to Duren, Patterson and their classmates that the man’s life was likely not at risk.

The heroic actions of the students quickly spread to the Undergraduate Nursing faculty. Once the paramedics took full control of the situation, the students sent photos of themselves in their muddy scrubs and shoes to their Behavior Health instructor, Kymi Black, who was very impressed with her students and how they took charge of the situation.

“They were at the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing,” Black said. “Once I saw the pictures and got the whole story, I knew faculty would want to know about this, as well. First- and second-year faculty should be proud of the skills they taught these students.”

The students share a similar stance. “I feel we did all we could do for the victim at the time and state he was in,” said Duren. Patterson added how proud she was to see herself and her classmates apply their compassion and nursing skills in a real-life matter. “This is what I love to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been as confident with aiding in this accident had I not learned and experienced what I have in school.”

According to a recent report from the students, the victim was not seriously injured and returned to a normal routine within 48 hours. Though he may never know exactly how the accident unfolded, he can be forever grateful for the care he received from the brave, compassionate and demonstrably prepared students who came to his aid that day.