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Air Force nurses honored for reviving drowning boy

The nurses had cleared the boy’s lungs and restored breathing before an ambulance arrived a short time later

By Tim O’Neil
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Air Force nurses Michelle Trujillo and Linda Clarkson, co-workers and best friends, rested from a bean-bag game at a country lake resort. A crowd gathered around a boy lying motionless on the beach.

Clarkson noticed the commotion near the water’s edge. “Let’s go,” she said, and grabbed Trujillo’s arm.

Moving through the crowd, they shouted for someone to call 911 and knelt before the boy, Issiah Wiest, whose body was blue. He was not breathing and had no pulse.

Trujillo began chest compressions for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Clarkson kept the 9-year-old boy’s airway open and gave him breaths.

“We thought there was no way this kid was going to make it,” Trujillo said. “All we could do was what we were trained to do.”

An off-duty emergency medical technician ran to his car and retrieved his bag. Other nurses visiting the resort offered assistance.

After what seemed a long time — a bystander’s best guess was about 10 minutes — Issiah began breathing and coughing up water. Trujillo and Clarkson had cleared his lungs and restored breathing before an ambulance arrived a short time later.

Issiah, now 10, goes to school in Potosi.

“They are courageous and awesome,” Darrell Branch, a friend of the boy’s family, said of the two nurses. “They saved a boy’s life. He went from dead to one night in a hospital.”

Trujillo, 37, and Clarkson, 45, are nurses with the rank of captain with the 375th Medical Group at Scott Air Force Base. Friends since they met while attending Chamberlain College of Nursing in Maryland Heights, they are assigned to the base family clinic.

For reviving Issiah, they received commendations from the Air Force and were honored in April by the Greater St. Louis Region of the American Red Cross for the military category of its 2016 heroes ceremony.

It happened on Labor Day weekend in 2015. Trujillo and Clarkson and their husbands and children had gone to Lost Valley Lake Resort, near Owensville, Mo., with their trailer campers for the holiday. Branch, who then was dating Issiah’s mother, took the boy and two of his own children to his father’s campsite at Lost Valley.

Branch and the children went to the swimming beach. The nurses and their families went there to play a bean-bag game similar to washers or horseshoes. Branch said he was watching the kids and saw Issiah splashing in water just above his waist.

Some moments later, a teenager swimming near the buoy line felt something bump against him. The teen and two friends grabbed Issiah and pulled him to the beach, alerting people nearby.

That’s when the nurses ran to him and began CPR. The ambulance arrived about 20 minutes later.

With Issiah’s heart not pumping, his odds for survival weren’t good — fewer than 10 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of a medical setting survive. CPR serves more to get blood to the brain than to restore heart function, but it roughly doubles the chance of recovery, according to the Red Cross.

Trujillo and Clarkson knew that. “Our instincts and training kicked in,” said Clarkson.

As they continued working on Issiah, Clarkson noticed a pulse in the boy’s carotid, or neck, artery. Trujillo stopped compressions and saw the boy breathe. They turned him onto his side and he vomited water.

Paramedics with the Gerald Area Ambulance District rushed him to Mercy Hospital in Washington, Mo. He was transferred to Mercy Hospital St. Louis, in Creve Coeur, and discharged the following day. At that time, Issiah and his mother, Sarah Wiest, lived in Festus.

The boy’s family treated the nurses to a thank-you party in October back at Lost Valley Lake. Branch, 33, now lives in Kansas City, where he is a commercial window-washer, and keeps in touch with the Wiests.

Clarkson grew up in Crestwood and graduated from Lindbergh High School in 1989. Trujillo is from Knoxville, Tenn. They joined the Air Force upon graduation from nursing school in 2010 and, after assignments elsewhere, were reunited at Scott. Clarkson and her husband, Gerald Clarkson, of Kirkwood, now live in O’Fallon, Ill. Trujillo and her husband, Jeff Blankenship, live in Shiloh.

Their families still go on camping trips.

Copyright 2016 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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