It was almost nine o’clock on Sunday morning and Joyce DeZutti was running late. Along with her daughters Giovanna and Antoinette and her friend Andrea Skillman, Joyce had just enjoyed a weekend of pampering at the spa and was headed back to the airport. Suddenly, her limo slowed and swung out to the side, veering out of the way to drive around a car accident. Out the window, the women saw two vehicles, one looking banged up and the other flipped over completely. Joyce turned to her daughter and asked if she’d seen an ambulance at the scene. As Giovanna responded that she had not, Joyce immediately yelled, “Stop now!” to the limo driver, lunging toward the partition to get his attention.

“There was no way that limo was going by that accident,” says DeZutti. “Even if I had to go through that partition, we were stopping. There was no question. We were supposed to be there.”

A series of very fateful events brought Joyce DeZutti to that Hershey highway that morning. Joyce, a psychiatric nurse at Linden Oaks Hospital, was more than 700 miles away from where she lives and works in Naperville, Illinois. About two months earlier, she was randomly picked out of more than 6,700 entrants as the winner of the California Casualty ‘Give a Nurse a Break Getaway.’ The grand prize was a two-day trip to the Hershey Hotel and Spa in Pennsylvania, a relaxing reward and much-deserved break from the daily grind of nursing. That morning, Joyce was headed back to the airport after a weekend of pampering and relaxation. If things had gone according to plan, Joyce would have missed the accident altogether.

“We wanted to get an early start. So we were really trying to leave. But my friend Andrea does Florence Nightingale presentations and she had her full costume with her and wanted to have pictures taken before we left,” remembers DeZutti. “So we got the pictures and got delayed by quite a bit. By the time we got in the limo, we had been rushed a bit and I was a little upset.”

As it turns out, Joyce DeZutti was exactly where she needed to be at exactly the right time. First responders had yet to arrive at the scene when the limo pulled up to the accident. Joyce, who was supposed to be getting a break from nursing life, suddenly felt herself thrust right back into the action.

“I threw my purse at my older daughter and said, ‘Get my kit out.’ And I ran to the scene, hollering out ‘I’m a nurse and my friend is too,’” says Joyce. After double-checking that someone had already called 911, she ran over to the flipped car. “I could see there was a woman hanging upside-down by her seatbelt. She was awake. I talked to her and said, ‘I’m Joyce and I’m a nurse.’”

The driver, an elderly woman, told Joyce she was having trouble breathing. The car smashed in around her and glass littering the asphalt, her seatbelt and coat making it difficult to breathe. So Joyce crawled in beside her.

“I had no problem getting in to her. I was laying on the ground next to the car with my hand reaching to her. She said she couldn’t breathe, which was no surprise with the angle her head was at,” recalls Joyce. “She had a big, heavy down pink coat, so I unzipped that and pulled her clothes away from her neck and put my hand on her chest and lifted up so she could lift her chin and she could breathe. I held her like that and just talked to her, holding her hand.”

While Joyce was worried about the patient, her daughter Giovanna was standing nearby worrying about her mother. Joyce had severely injured her arms while working with the horses she uses as therapy for her patients. Surgeries over the years had left pins and plates in her arms.

“I knew she could get hurt, too,” says Giovanna. “I have no doubt that if my mom didn’t have this problem with her arm, she could do it just fine because she’s a strong lady- mentally and physically. But I was concerned about her hurting herself and her being home and being in a lot of pain.”

But the adrenaline kept Joyce’s attention away from her own pain and focused on the patient. The woman asked Joyce to call her niece and asked if anyone else was hurt. As Joyce’s daughter Giovanna called the victim’s niece, firemen arrived at the scene. Meanwhile, Skillman, who works as nurse at the VA, explained to Joyce what was unfolding around her.

“It was like a Code Blue situation. Everyone has a job. I look back at what Joyce and I ended up doing, and it was sort of the same thing,” says Skillman. “She was doing the direct care and I was scoping out of the area and letting her know what the firemen were doing.”

A firefighter took Joyce’s place supporting the woman and Joyce slipped back out of the mangled car. But she wasn’t leaving.

“I said ‘I’m going to stay until they get her out of there,’’ remembers DeZutti. “I couldn’t leave not knowing. So I stayed.”

As firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to cut away the passenger side of the car, a man in his fifties or sixties walked up to Andrea.

“He hands me a card of phone numbers to call and I grabbed the card, thinking they must be the patient’s phone numbers. He said they were and walked away,” says Skillman.

The man was the driver’s son. At the time, no one realized he had actually been in the car at the time of the accident.

“I asked if that was his mother and he said yes and that he was in there. He told me he had a seatbelt on. And a bystander confirmed he had helped get the man out of the car,” says DeZutti. So she went back into nurse mode. “I started talking to him really gently and I told him I was a nurse and wanted to check him. I did a head-to-toe and didn’t find anything tender and everything seemed fine.”

Firefighters put both occupants of the rolled car, the woman and her son, in C-collars on backboards and loaded them into the ambulance. But not before Joyce offered her final words of comfort.

“Joyce said she wanted to talk to her now that she was out of the car,” says Skillman. “But this patient was what my husband, a fireman, calls a ‘load and go.’ You don’t stick around. You put them in the ambulance and take off.”

So Joyce seized her moment, captured in this picture…

Photo Courtesy of Giovanna DeZutti, 2012

“I went to her and told her that her son was okay and that he was going to the hospital also to be checked over,” says DeZutti. “I said we had left messages with her family of where she was going to be.”

Joyce was the perfect person to pull up to the scene. A nurse for more than 30 years, she put herself through school by teaching  taught EMTs and worked in a Trauma 1 Center and ICU.  But to her daughter, Giovanna, up until that day she’d just been Mom.

“I’ve never seen my mom like that. My mom is my mom. My mom’s not a nurse to me,” says Giovanna. “But it was exciting watching her do it, because I’d never seen her doing anything like that. I’d seen maybe a call or two for a patient who was out of control, but this was totally different. It was a ‘bringing her back to the Emergency Room’ type of thing. She knew exactly what to do and what she was going to do ahead of time if this wasn’t working or that wasn’t working. It all came to her so fast. I could never do that. It was amazing. I see her more of a hero, now that I’ve seen her in action.”

But for Joyce, heroic action like this is the norm. This isn’t even the first time she’s stepped in to help an accident victim. When her kids were young, Joyce stopped to help another woman who was trapped upside-down in a rolled vehicle. She once witnessed a police officer get struck by a vehicle while directing traffic. She stopped to help him, too.

This story says something about nurses. We can try to give them a ‘break’ from their jobs. But stepping in and taking action to save lives is not just a part of their jobs. It’s a part of who they are.

Here’s where we need your help. When Joyce told us her story, we told her we would help her find out what happened to the woman and her son. But without knowing even the woman’s full name, although we believe her first name might be Jane, we’ve been unable to find her and check on her. If you know anyone in Pennsylvania, please pass Joyce’s story along and help us help this hero. After all, we figure it’s the least we can do to say ‘Thank You’ to this heroic nurse, Joyce DeZutti.

Do YOU know a Nurse, Firefighter, EMT, Peace Officer, or Educator Hero? Tell us about them!

To learn more about the Give a Nurse a Break Giveaway, click here.


Pictures from the Accident, The Hershey Spa, and the women in Washington D.C.:

All photos courtesy of Andrea Skillman and Giovanna DeZutti, 2012.

California Casualty

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