Imagine working your job as a school nurse when a disaster strikes and you hear the distress call that a fellow coworker collapsed and needed help. Virginia Davis had always known that being a school nurse meant being prepared for any emergency, but she never thought she would have to put her emergency department skills to use in a school setting. However, when disaster struck, she rose to the occasion and played a pivotal role in saving a life.
As a school nurse, Davis is responsible for the health and well-being of the students and staff at Jefferson Forest High School (JFHS). On that fateful day, when she received the distress call that her coworker Thomas Garrison had collapsed, she knew that every second counted.
On March 16th, Thomas Garrison, a custodian at JFHS in Bedford, Virginia, collapsed from a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest while at work. Typically, he works outside and was supposed to be mowing the grounds alone that day. Because someone was out sick, he had coke inside to help with lunches.
Steve Everett, another custodian, made the 911 phone call after witnessing him collapse. He then called out for help, and three others came to assist; Virginia Davis, the school nurse; Brian Miller, the lead teacher; and Kelly Thomas, the supervisor of health services of Bedford County Public Schools.
Image: 911 call from the incident
Without hesitation, Davis rushed to the scene and immediately assessed the situation. She could tell that Garrison was in dire straits —he was unresponsive, had no pulse, and wasn’t breathing. But instead of freezing, Davis sprang into action and began performing CPR. She advised Thomas to grab the AED.
Thomas was quick to grab the AED, knowing exactly where the closest one was located which helped lead to a successful resuscitation effort. Miller, lending his support and offering words of encouragement and prayed for Garrison to be revived and safe. Working together, both Davis and Miller performed CPR and used the AED for a grueling 15 minutes until Garrison’s pulse was finally restored
As they waited for emergency services to arrive, they cheered each other on, prayed, and begged Garrison to keep breathing. Thomas recalls that “We saw his chest rise, and I said, ‘That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’” Thomas travels to all the Bedford County schools to check on the nurses and just happened to be at JFHS that day.
Thomas felt like it was fate being at JFHS when she was “I definitely don’t think it was by chance … I was meant to be here. It was great to be able to work with the team and give them an extra set of hands.”
Before becoming a school nurse, Davis worked as a nurse in a busy emergency department. With years of experience under her belt, she knew how to remain calm in life or death situations. However, while working as a school nurse, she has not had to respond to any true emergency situations. Luckily her past skills kicked in, and she recalled her past experience “We’ve done it in the hospital before, and doing it in a school setting is much different. We are blessed to have AEDs.”
With Davis’s experience in the ED, she recalls how difficult it can be to save a life “It doesn’t always end up being successful, you know, many times it is difficult to regain a pulse and respirations on the scene, and we did it.”
Davis recalled the emotional moment as organized chaos, “We came together, and we rocked it out. It was very organized chaos, but we talked to each other the entire time, we cheered on each other the entire time, and we begged Thomas to keep breathing.”
It was a tense, emotional moment for everyone involved, but their efforts paid off. Garrison was already conscious when the fire department arrived on the scene, and he later made a full recovery. Davis was amazed to see that they had saved their co-worker’s life, “For him to speak to me in the back of the ambulance was absolutely incredible.”
Davis commented that Garrison being inside the office space helped to save his life, “We had that space to work [with] him. We didn’t have any external factors messing with the situation at all. The students weren’t aware. We were able to work really hard as a team and not be interrupted, and we were able to focus.”
Garrison was released from the hospital several days later, thanks to the efforts of Davis, Miller, Thomas, and Everette. In the end, Davis and her team were recognized for their quick thinking and life-saving actions. They were given awards by Bedford County Fire and Rescue, and their heroic efforts will always be remembered by the staff and students of Jefferson Forest High School.