Anne, a nurse at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Virginia, is being hailed as a hero after racing onto the crash scene to save a group of children with special needs.
She was driving to pick up her son from his daycare program on April 21 when she saw a school get sideswiped by a pick-up truck. The vehicle went down an embankment near Pocoshock Creek.
“I just saw the bus ahead of me. And then I thought, what’s going on?” said Anne.
“The car just came across the road, and then it hit the bus and the bus went off the road and hit the guardrail and went through the guardrail and then down an embankment. And then it flipped on its side. And the whole time you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh.’”
She decided to venture down to the embankment even though she wasn’t trained as a trauma nurse.
“I’m a behavioral health nurse. I don’t work with critical injuries. What if they’re really hurt?” she thought to herself in the moment.
She didn’t waste any time once she realized what was going on.
“I could hear people on the bus. And right away I thought to myself, ‘There’s people with special needs, there are kids with special needs on the bus.’”
The students were still strapped into their seat belts as the water started filling the bus.
More help arrived in less than a minute. Two men climbed into the bus through the driver-side window and started unbuckling the kids. Another person attended to the driver.
Anne and a group of good Samaritans made it in through the back of the bus. She says the emergency alarm went off, which upset the children. Anne told someone to keep their hand over the alarm to make the noise stop.
“They were so scared, you know, the kids were scared,” said Anne. “You could hear the distress caused by it, they were putting their fingers in their ears.”
All the students, who were high school age, had autism and were non-verbal.
She then had to communicate with the people standing outside the bus to make sure the kids didn’t run away.
“The instructional assistant had already said they’re a flight risk. You know, they’re so scared to make sure that they didn’t run into traffic. Of course, we didn’t realize they’d stop traffic down the way.”
A man held onto the hanging seat belts to make a path for the kids to escape. They were each led outside to safety. Anne was the last person on the bus. She stayed behind to collect backpacks and tablets.
“Well, I taught five-year-olds for 17 years and I have a son with special needs and I’ve worked as an instructional assistant for a few summers in special education systems. So I just knew,” said Anne.
When her colleagues discovered the news, they nominated her for the Acts of Kindness award, which comes with a $300 cash prize and a gift card to a local Mexican restaurant.
“What it says about her to me is that when she leaves here, she’s always a nurse. You know, she’s a nurse,” said Lisa Castro, the Director of Behaviors Health at Bon Secours. “When she’s in the grocery store, at the bank or at Kohl’s, you know, she’s going to be there to help whoever needs her.”
Joanne Cooke, administrative director of emergency services at St. Mary’s Hospital and Anne’s supervisor, said she is the epitome of stability.
She credits Anne with helping the children feel safe.
“I cannot imagine how terrifying this was for the adults and students on the bus who had special needs and had difficulty communicating … much less observing it happen in slow motion through the eyes of a medical professional and bystander watching it spin out of control,” Cooke said.
“I want to applaud Anne for her heroism. Anne is one of the kindest and most genuine individuals I have ever met. She is humble, caring and has a gentle spirit. She serves vulnerable individuals daily – without judgment – and with such love and compassion that can only come directly from her beautiful heart. Anne is a true angel, and we are so blessed to have her on our team and part of our St. Mary’s family.”
When asked how she felt after the incident, Anne said, “Thankful. Thankful that I was there.”
As for her award, she’s not sure she deserves all the attention when there are so many good Samaritans out there.
“I don’t think that it’s something that I really needed to be recognized for. I think with a whole lot of other people there that day that also could have been recognized and should be recognized.”