Tara Culbreath, RN got into nursing knowing she’d one day have the opportunity to save a life. But the December 2015 graduate of JRMC School of Nursing probably didn’t expect it to happen a mere six months into her new career.
On a trip to Heber Springs over Father’s Day, Culbreath’s packing was interrupted by the nearby sound of sirens.
“My husband thought he saw something happening near a picnic table so he went over, thinking someone probably got too hot,” she said in an issue of Pulse, a publication of Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff. “I was taking our kids to the car when I heard him screaming my name and saying a kid had drowned.”
Culbreath took off toward the scene where she came upon a distraught Hispanic woman cradling the lifeless body of her 12-year-old daughter. Putting the girl on the ground, Culbreath detected shallow breathing and a gurgling sound. Her nurses’ training taking over, she turned the child over on her side and hit her on the back several times.
“Nothing happened right away,” she said. “But within five minutes she stopped breathing and was unresponsive. I started giving her mouth-to-mouth and doing chest compressions. I got her breathing again but it didn’t last, so I moved her to her side again and hit her on the back.”
The girl started coughing and, opening her eyes, raised up slightly to look around as the ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. As the paramedics took over, a crowd of about 20 of the girl’s family crowded in to express their gratitude for Culbreath’s quick action.
Though her Spanish is shaky, one compliment rang through loud and clear.
“I could tell several of them were saying ‘You’re an angel.’” she said. “I do believe God put me there at the right time. If we hadn’t left when we did or if we had gone swimming in another location like the kids wanted, I wouldn’t have been there to help. I feel like he was saying ‘Come on Tara, let’s get to work.’”
Culbreath didn’t get the family’s name so when she decided to check in later at the local hospital to see how the girl was doing, it was difficult to get much information. Explaining what happened, she was told only that the girl had been discharged.
“I would love to meet her and see the family,” she said. “I shared a post on Facebook about it, and my friends are continuing to share it, so I’m going to keep trying to track her down.”
In the time since, the enormity of her quick thinking and proper action has had time to sink in. Yet now, as in the moment, she said she feels altogether prepared for the direst of circumstances.
“I didn’t even think before responding,” she said. “I just did what had to be done. I learned so much at the JRMC School of Nursing and from the nurses I work with every day. They taught me so much and I’m grateful I could use that information to help someone else.”