GREENFIELD — Linda Garrity took the day off June 16.
It should have been relaxing: breakfast with the grandchildren, an afternoon hair appointment.
Fate had different plans for her. Garrity was in the right place to help a choking child — and later, to provide first aid to victims of a bus crash. By the end of the day, the registered nurse was credited with helping save at least one life.
Fellow staff members at Hancock Regional Hospital on Monday recognized Garrity, community education coordinator, for her quick and selfless response to two emergencies, especially her soothing presence at the scene of a three-vehicle crash that injured 13 people, including 11 children riding in a church van that toppled over on State Street, just in front of the hospital.
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About 20 staff members at the hospital applauded the nurse’s quick thinking during a meeting Monday, with CEO Steve Long honoring her with a special certificate.
Garrity remained self-effacing as she was praised Monday.
“I didn’t do anything different than what anyone in that room would have done,” Garrity said. “The timing was just right, twice in one day.”
That June afternoon, Garrity’s turn signal was ticking as she waited to turn east into the parking lot of her salon just off State Street. When she glanced ahead, she realized a huge van had been upended just a few yards in front of her.
She didn’t hesitate, pulling off the road and running to the scene. Though she hadn’t worked directly with patients for six years, her instincts kicked in as she saw other bystanders pulling injured children from the overturned van belonging to the Trinity Park United Methodist Church Alpha Omega day-care program. The van, carrying 11 children, was returning from a field trip to a Rushville-area swimming pool.
“As a nurse, you always go try to help at any accident; it’s just automatic,” she said. “When I saw it was kids they were pulling out, it made it even more urgent.”
Though she’s stopped at several accidents through her 30-some years as a nurse, it was the first time she’d come upon a collision where children were hurt, she said.
As bystanders helped get all of the kids out of the van, she made sure they were conscious, breathing and not hemorrhaging. There was a lot of broken glass and a lot of blood, and the injured children were panicked, Garrity said.
“Linda looked around for first-responders only to realize, she is the first responder,” Long recounted Monday.
She helped medics arriving to the scene, using her knowledge as a nurse to triage which youngsters had the most immediate needs. Then, she sat and comforted the children until they were all taken to area hospitals. All those injured survived.
Some day off, Garrity thought; she was physically and emotionally drained.
Just hours earlier at Lincoln Square Pancake House in Fortville, where Garrity had taken her grandchildren to have breakfast, a mom in the next room of the restaurant began screaming as her 4-year-old was choking on a piece of fruit.
“She was really choking,” said Garrity, who performed the Heimlich maneuver. “She went limp in my arms.”
Garrity was able to get the piece of fruit out of the child’s airway and later heard back from the mother, who wrote a grateful note on the hospital’s Facebook page.
Garrity’s alarmed granddaughter swore off watermelon then and there, she told her fellow staff members, earning laughs.
As a mother, grandmother and community educator, Garrity is the kind of person who runs to help in case of an emergency instead of running away, said Nancy Davis, Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation executive director.
“I think that’s just her makeup,” Davis said. “That’s just who she is.”
Though Garrity has been a nurse for 30 years, she never worked with children, so it feels even stranger to her that she was involved in two emer- gencies in one day involving little ones, she said.
She said she was not sure whether it was divine intervention or just a strange coincidence, but she’s relieved she was able to use her training to help those kids.
“I’m glad I was there,” she said. “You always hope someone can be there when you need them.”