Texas Nurse Saves Coworker’s Life

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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

When one of her colleagues called in sick one morning, Sharon Thorwald, RN, CAPA, clinical coordinator for the post-anesthesia unit at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Arlington, Texas, picked up the line. It didn’t take long for her to suspect something was seriously wrong with her coworker and she immediately took action to save Alicia Garza’s life.

Sharon Thorwald and Alicia Garza
Sharon Thorwald, RN, CAPA, recognized that Alicia Garza required medical care when the unit secretary called in sick one morning.

“She was saying she had a bad headache, the worst ever and she felt like she wanted to go to sleep,” Thorwald said. “At one point she told me, if she went to sleep, she didn’t think she would wake up.”

Garza’s speech was slower than normal and she told Thorwald that she couldn’t make it downstairs from her bedroom.

“I felt she needed to get some attention,” Thorwald said. “I questioned if she had a neighbor who could help her. Her husband had gone to work. She had no neighbors.”

That’s when Thorwald instructed Garza to call 911 and tell the dispatcher she was on the second floor, and emergency medical personnel may need to break in.

“I had the most horrible feeling that started at the top of my head,” Garza explained. “It was something different, like things were starting to shut down.”

Garza does not recall much of her conversation with Thorwald or with the 911 dispatcher, who stayed on the phone with her. Meanwhile, Thorwald kept trying to call back to see if she had actually called for help, only to receive a busy signal.

The fire department broke a window just as Garza’s husband showed up. Garza praised their ability to keep her talking as she drifted in and out. The ambulance crew transported her to Arlington Memorial, where physicians diagnosed a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The doctors told her husband to call family, that she likely would not make it.

“Emotionally, it hit me,” Thorwald said. “I realized if that [call] had not happened, something else might have happened and she would not have survived.”

Garza spent 13 days in the hospital, more than a week in intensive care, followed by an extensive rehabilitation program. The bleeding stopped on its own and she still does not know what caused it.

About four months later, Garza returned to work and, now a year later, functions at full capacity. She has a few lasting complications, such as memory and balance glitches, but her health continues to improve.

“If they had not interrogated me about my condition on the phone, I’d have hung up the phone and gone to sleep and may not have woken up again,” Garza said. “I’m a walking miracle. Most people who have what I did do not survive or [it has] left their body paralyzed.”

A nurse for more than 40 years, Thorwald said she knows Garza’s appreciative.

“You have to go with your instincts when you know something is not right and you have to do something about it,” Thorwald said. “Whether it’s a patient in the hospital or someone you are near to or work with, if you feel something is wrong, there usually is, and you have to take that step—to check it out and go further.”

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