Joyce DeZutti, BSN, RN, was an emergency care technician before she became a nurse.
"I always loved the emergency room and went to nursing school so that I'd be able to work there," she explained.
Among other nursing roles, DeZutti worked in the ED at several hospitals and in the cardio-thoracic ICU caring for infants and adults after heart surgery or transplants. Today, she works with patients who have eating disorders at Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill.
"It is a good fit for me as many of my patients have medical complications that affect every organ in their body, and my critical care background comes in handy," she said.
This past November, the psychiatric nurse found herself at the Hershey Hotel and Spa in Pennsylvania after winning the "Give a Nurse a Break" sweepstakes. She also found herself in the right place at the right time when she stumbled upon an event that would put her emergency nurse training to the test.
'We Needed to Come That Weekend'
This past fall, DeZutti submitted her name for a California Casualty contest that rewards a deserving nurse with a trip to The Chocolate Spa in Hershey, Pa. - and won.
"I completely forgot that I had entered the contest until three California Casualty representatives came as surprise guests to our Eating Disorder Program staff meeting in September and presented me with a huge bouquet of flowers, and a giant sign that announced [I had won the sweepstakes]," she said.
DeZutti chose to bring along her two adult daughters, Antoinette and Giovanna, and nursing friend Andrea (Andie) Skillman. They decided on the weekend of Nov. 9, because Skillman works for the VA and would have the weekend off, including Monday (which was Veterans Day). But when she initially tried to make reservations for that weekend, DeZutti was told she should choose a different weekend, as there were few spa appointments left.
"I had to insist that we needed to come that weekend, even if it meant we wouldn't get our wish list of spa amenities," she recalled.
Once resolved, DeZutti made reservations to fly into Harrisburg and out of Washington, DC, since the travel budget would not cover flying into and out of Harrisburg. The women were excited to be in Washington, DC, for Veteran's day as DeZutti - who was born on the Air Force base in Washington, DC - has a special interest in veterans and founded the veteran's task force at Linden Oaks Hospital.
"My dad passed away in September and I learned at that time that he had served in Vietnam. I wanted to show Andie the Vietnam Women's Memorial, as she had never seen it, and revisit the Vietnam wall," she said.
'The Decision For Me Was Quick'
On the morning of Nov.11, with their weekend of pampering behind them, DeZutti arranged for the complimentary limo to pick her and her fellow spa-goers up from The Hotel Hershey at 7:30am. The plan was for the limo to take them to the Harrisburg airport, where they would pick up their rental car and drive to Washington, DC.
Before the women made their way to the airport, DeZutti and Skillman, a Florence Nightingale re-enactor who had traveled with her costume, took pictures as "Florence Nightingale and the modern day nurse" in front of the hotel.
"We asked the front desk clerk, Renee, if she could help us and we literally ran down to the main entrance to take pictures at the last minute, knowing Andie would need to change out of the costume before leaving," said DeZutti.
By the time they got into the limo, the women were running behind schedule. But they were right on time for something else.
At one point during the drive, the limo slowed down and drove off the road. DeZutti saw one car that was banged up and another car that was flipped over. When she didn't see any emergency vehicles, she shouted for the limo driver to stop and back up. DeZutti wasn't sure if the driver could hear her through the partition, so she lunged toward it intending to bang on it to get his attention.
"The decision for me was quick and easy: flipped car, no police or ambulances, stop and help," she said.
The limo driver heard her, stopped and backed up closer to the scene. DeZutti threw her purse at her daughter, Giovanna, and told her to get her first aid kit out. Then, she climbed over her daughters and got out as soon as the driver unlocked the door.
"I think that my EMT/ER/trauma nurse training kicked in," she said.
As she ran to the scene, DeZutti announced that she and Skillman were nurses and was directed to the rolled over car by several people standing in the grass. She ran over and lay down amidst shattered glass on the asphalt road near the driver's side window. That's when she saw an elderly woman hanging upside down by her seatbelt in the car.
'I'm Joyce, I'm a Nurse'
Because the driver's side windows were shattered, DeZutti was able to reach into the car and talk to the woman.
"I told her, 'I'm Joyce, I'm a nurse.' She said she couldn't breathe. The roof of the car was caved in; she was upside down with her head firmly up against the car ceiling, bent forward with her chin to her chest. She had on layers of clothing around her neck and a heavy pink down coat zipped up. She was being choked by her own clothing," DeZutti recalled.
She unzipped the woman's coat, loosened all of the layers of clothing around her neck, then put her right hand on the woman's chest and pushed her body up to create space between her chin and chest.
"I held her cold, bluish right hand with my left hand, talked to her and kept her calm," DeZutti said.
Eventually, rescuers arrived on the scene, shattered more windows and crawled inside the car to remove the woman's seat. Skillman ultimately called out that it was safe to leave the car, but DeZutti wasn't taking any chances.
"I told her that if I let go, the woman wouldn't be able to breathe again. But she told me calmly that the firemen had arrived and would take my place," she said.
When DeZutti moved out of the car, she was immediately replaced by a rescuer. The fire department ended up using the "Jaws of Life" to remove both doors on the driver's side to extricate the woman from her car.
It wasn't until the fire department took over for DeZutti that she noticed a middle-aged man on the scene and asked if he had been in the car. He had.
"I told him that I was a nurse and wanted to check him to make sure he wasn't hurt," DeZutti said.
She did just that, performing a head-to-toe exam and alerting a female EMT, who placed him in a c-collar, long board and stretcher and sent him to the hospital as soon as she heard that he had been in the now demolished car.
The man turned out to be the woman's son. After he was taken care of, DeZutti found out that the woman may have lost consciousness while she was extracted from the car.
"I decided then that I wasn't going anywhere until I knew she was OK," she said.
Once the woman was removed from the car, placed in a c-collar, long board and on the stretcher, DeZutti went over to let her know that her son was OK and on his way to the hospital to be checked out. She only had a moment with the woman, who was immediately placed in the ambulance and rushed to the hospital.
'She Was Not Alone'
The accident occurred prior to 9 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2012, in front of Indian Echo Caverns at 368 Middletown Road in Hummelstown, PA. The Derry Township Police Department and the Hershey Volunteer Fire Department were the responders. DeZutti believes the accident victim was taken to Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
"I would like her family to know that she was thinking about and asking if others were OK even as she was upside down in a demolished car. I'd like them to know that she was not alone, and people were there to help her and her son," she said.
DeZutti would also like nurses to realize that they can help even when they don't have any equipment; after she got back into the limo she realized that she hadn't needed anything out of her first aid kit.
"I sincerely believe that we were meant to be at that accident to help that woman and her son. It gives meaning for why I won the contest, why it was so important for me to be there on that date, and why we were delayed," she concluded. "I am willing to keep repeating this story in the hopes that if the family needs information, I'll be happy to let them know how amazing their mom was. It would be, of course, even better to find out that she and her son made it home for Thanksgiving."
Beth Puliti is a freelance writer.