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June 12th, 2009
10:17 AM ET

Student saves dean’s life

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Dean Glenn Swinny sits next to Charity Caldwell, the nursing student who came to his aid during his heart attack at her commencement ceremony."]

This was not a test. A nursing student put her skills to work just minutes before she graduated. She saved a man having a heart attack at the commencement ceremony, yelling out “I’m a nurse” while wearing her cap and gown. It turned out the man whose life she saved was the dean of her school, a man she'd never met before.

Charity Caldwell is now a practicing nurse in Memphis, Tennessee. Glenn Swinny is the dean of mathematics, health and natural sciences at Southwest Tennessee Community College. They both spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday.

Kiran Chetry: You guys have quite a story to tell. Let me ask you dean, how are you doing this morning?

Glenn Swinny: I'm doing great and getting stronger each day.

Chetry: You ended up having to have a double bypass, right?

Swinny: That's correct.

Chetry: Well, it's great to know you're doing better. You got out of the hospital in the middle of May. Charity, tell me about how all of this happened. You guys were there celebrating your graduation. I'm sure it was a very exciting day. When did you realize someone was in distress?

Charity Caldwell: I was running ten minutes late to graduation; pouring down rain and ran through the hallway trying to go through security and friends were waiting on me. And I came down the hall and saw a man lying on the ground with a crowd gathered around him and instantly dropped to my knees and started assessing what was going on and saw that he was in distress and yelled “Call 911. Who is he? Who is he with?”

Chetry: And this is when you started doing chest compressions? You did that for several minutes and drawing on your nursing skills knowing you had only about three minutes to get his blood circulating again and then you started worrying about brain damage. What were you doing at the time?

Caldwell: Well, as I assessed him, I felt for a pulse. I saw that he was barely breathing and as I yelled to call 911, he lost his pulse. And at that time, I began chest compressions and Dean Swinny opened his eyes and I could see these big brown eyes and he took a big breath and went out on me again. And I was yelling “Come on, you can do this, stay with me, it's going to be okay.” And I started chest compressions again. And during that time, paramedics arrived and started hooking him up to the defibrillator and an Ambu bag to breathe for him. And I asked them do they need me to stay on? And they said they had it at that time.

Chetry: You had quite a road getting to nursing school, right? As I understand, there was a time you almost didn't graduate. You were dropped from the program because of a couple of failed courses. What happened from there?

Caldwell: Well, I originally entered in the nursing program in '01. There were seven hundred applicants to the program and they took the top 62 students that applied. I was working full-time and a single mother, so the course load was quite a bit and was not successful within probably 1 in 3 tenths of a point of passing. I was dismissed from the program. And at that time, that meant that you could not go into another nursing program in the Mid-South. I kept in contact with the director and they were instituting a readmission policy at that time. Dean Swinny had not even seen the policy, the provost had not signed on to it yet and it ended up they instituted it and I readmitted with the general application pool all over again. Classes that I'd already taken and passed I had to repeat, but that was okay because this was all I wanted to do. That's where my heart was.

Chetry: Congratulations to you. And Glenn, what do you think about that twist of fate? She might not have been there that day?

Swinny: That is true. And everything just fell in place. We both feel that there was some sort of divine intervention that took care of what needed to be taken care of at the time.

Chetry: I'm sure you're proud as well. This is one of the students from your school called into duty and clearly knows what to do to save lives.

Swinny: That's absolutely right.

Chetry: Well, I'm very happy for both of you. It was a great ending. And Charity, congratulations. As you said, eight long years but you finally got there and, of course, you did a great thing for your dean, as well.

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