A Hunt School of Nursing student was given an international award for saving the life of a woman who was choking on her food at a local restaurant this past spring.
Jenifer Reyes, a second-year nursing student, received the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses in Training last month during a ceremony with Stephanie L. Woods, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the Hunt School of Nursing.
In early March, Reyes and her family were eating at a local Village Inn when another patron began struggling to breathe. Instinctively, Reyes rushed to her side, confirmed the woman was choking, and then with permission used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a piece of potato from the woman’s throat.
“My daughter is the one who pointed the lady out to me. She was standing beside her booth and everyone was just staring at her. I went up to her, looked at her and the color was already leaving her face – I could see she wasn’t breathing,” Reyes said. “I asked her if she was choking and she waved her hand to signal ‘yes.’ I told her I was going to do the Heimlich, then stood behind her to begin. I wasn’t successful right away, but I kept trying. Finally, I heard her breathe and I saw the food had come out.”
The incident came at a time when Reyes was questioning if she chose the right career path. But when faced with an emergency, Reyes was pleasantly surprised at how she reacted and how much of the Hunt School of Nursing curriculum she’d retained. She took it as a sign that she’s meant to be a nurse and help others.
“It was a challenging and hard semester, so I was just feeling overwhelmed with school when this happened. But making a difference in someone’s life motivated me,” Reyes said. “Honestly, I never thought I’d know what to do in a situation like that. It just came so naturally – it was kind of shocking because everyone said I looked so calm, but my head was racing. It got me thinking this is my calling.”
That was reaffirmed in July when Dr. Woods presented Reyes with the DAISY Award. Now, she’s looking forward to a career in nursing and said her daughter is thinking about doing the same.
Currently, 75% of students from the Hunt School of Nursing are El Paso natives, like Reyes. This helps fulfill Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s mission to create more educational opportunities for Borderland residents and address the critical nursing shortage across the Paso del Norte region.
“We try to help our nursing students make the transition from being an individual to a nursing professional. This is more complex than it sounds. Suddenly you’re a nurse, and you’re one in every context,” Dr. Woods said. “In this situation, our student, Ms. Reyes, was simply having dinner, but suddenly assessed someone was in trouble and determined what she should do. She acted like a nurse. We’re very proud she stepped up to help in this potentially life-threatening situation. She did exactly what we hope all our students would do.”
In 2021, TTUHSC El Paso will celebrate the Hunt School of Nursing’s 10-year anniversary. Since opening in 2011, the school has graduated more than 600 students, with 90% of those graduates staying in the region. The school of nursing currently has partnerships with every hospital in the El Paso community, which includes both clinical rotation opportunities and job placements post-graduation.
The DAISY Foundation was established in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died of immune thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease. The Barnes family was impressed by the clinical skills and compassion shown by nurses who cared for Patrick. They created the international award to demonstrate appreciation to nurses, nursing students and nursing faculty for their commitment, skills and compassion.
“Usually, it’s an award given to students for something clinical, but what’s more clinical-related than saving someone’s life?” said Jackeline Biddle Richard, D.N.P., R.N., J.D., CNE and DAISY Award Coordinator at Hunt School of Nursing El Paso. “It speaks to Jenifer’s character, as well as her compassion, which is one of the key traits the award recognizes. The DAISY Award honors those with compassion and skills, and she showed both in an emergency situation. That speaks to the kind of students we have and the nurses we educate.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse for the vital role they play in providing health services. TTUHSC El Paso joins the WHO in a year-long effort to celebrate the work of nurses and highlighting the challenging conditions they often face in the workforce.