hiking nurse debra smith

As an emergency room nurse, Debra Smith is used to reacting quickly in life-or-death situations. When a medical crisis recently occurred far from the hospital, she was put to the test in a whole new way. 

Smith, an academic success coach at Chamberlain College of Nursing, is affectionately called the “test whisperer” by students on the Phoenix campus for her ability to help students achieve high marks.

On a recent Sunday morning, she set out with her dog to hike a mountain preserve close to her home.

“It’s kind of an off-beat track—not the usual path that people take,” she said. “As we were going up the side of the trail, a man went running past me.”

Smith had her headphones on and didn’t pay much attention as they crossed paths. Several minutes later, she came around the bend and found the man on the ground. She checked to see if he was responsive, and found that he had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.

“I wanted to just start compressions, and I had to think to call 911 first,” she said. “When you’re in the hospital, it’s totally different—you have all the resources in the world. I call for help there and I have four other nurses and two doctors.”

Smith put 911 on speaker phone and began compressions on the man.

“I didn’t know how they ever would find us,” she said. “I was trying to explain to 911 where I was on the side of this mountain, while I was doing compressions and at the same time screaming for help.”

Luckily, someone did find her. Two people heard her yells, and joined her. One happened to be a paramedic. For 20 minutes, Smith and the paramedic performed CPR on the man as they waited for emergency personnel to arrive on the side of the mountain. Off and on, he would get a pulse and have labored breathing, before losing his pulse again.

The firemen arrived before the paramedics, and Smith and the paramedic used the defibrillator to shock the man. He continued on a touch-and-go basis, with Smith giving compressions intermittently until an ambulance arrived.

“I happen to work in the ER at the hospital they took him to,” she said. “That was kind of cool—I could check in on him. He ended up surviving.”

The Chamberlain community commends Debra for this heroic effort!

Read more extraordinary nursing stories:

Heroes In Action: Chamberlain Nurses During Hurricane Sandy

The GiFT That Keeps On Giving: Chamberlain Grad Helps NICU Families In Need

Chamberlain’s Arlington Campus Gives Back To Wounded Warriors

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