Nursing student saves a life en route to new student induction ceremony

The evening of January 12, 2015, will forever stand out for Maria Whicker, 20, a sophomore at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Maria was preparing to begin her nursing studies at Indiana University School of Nursing (IUSON). In fact, the Induction Ceremony for new nursing students and their families was scheduled for that evening. She knew that the ceremony was going to mark a change in her world; little did she know she was going to be put to the test earlier than expected.

“When my dad and I arrived on campus we turned onto Barnhill Drive where I saw a man lying on the side of the road,” said Whicker, “All I could think was that I knew something was wrong and I needed to help him.”

Whicker, the oldest of four children, always considered herself somewhat of a second mom and credits that role for naturally instilling in her a sense to care for others. “Ever since high school I’ve wanted to go into nursing. I want to make someone’s day better when they may be at one of the worst times in their lives,” said Maria.

In her younger years, Whicker’s little sister, Sophia, was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children with an appendicitis. “I saw how much the nurses at Riley really care for their patients. In class, we talk about always being the patients’ advocate, and that’s what I truly want to do,” said Whicker.

Upon pulling up to the scene, Whicker’s quick thinking led her to jump out of her father’s car and rush over to the man lying on the ground. “Adrenaline just kicked in and I knew I had to act fast.” While someone else called an ambulance, Whicker began checking for a pulse. “At first, it was difficult to find the pulse because I had never been in that type of situation, but he wasn’t breathing, and I couldn’t find a pulse at all. I knew I needed to begin CPR or he wasn’t going to make it.”

During her four years in high school, Maria spent every summer as a lifeguard at her local pool. She was well-trained in CPR and drilled on how to react in a crises situation. “Although each crisis scenario is different, I’ve always been taught to help no matter what,” said Whicker.
While an onlooker went to retrieve an AED (automated external defibrillator), Maria began chest compressions with the help of Ina Wilson, a nurse practitioner from IU Health and an IUSON alum – BSN ’01 and MSN ‘06.

“I had just gotten off work when I drove by and saw Maria and a few onlookers around the man,” said Wilson, “I pulled over to see if I could help, and when we realized the man wasn’t breathing, Maria and I began compressions.”

Once the AED was hooked up Whicker and Wilson waited to see what they needed to do. “The machine showed that he needed to be shocked which meant his heart wasn’t beating. My entire body was filled with adrenaline, and we pushed the button to shock his heart,” said Whicker, “Ina and I continued compressions because he still had not regained a pulse.”

The ambulance arrived soon after to take the man to the hospital. “Sadly, I haven’t had any contact with him since the incident occurred, but I heard the paramedic say ‘We have a heartbeat,’” said Whicker, “And I had one of those feelings where I knew he would be okay.”
Fortunately, the cardiologist on-call who took care of the man works with Ina Wilson. “Last I heard the man was in good condition, and knowing that we were the reason he is alive is exciting and a relief as well,” said Wilson.

Marsha Baker, Director of Diversity and Enrichment at IUSON was the first on the scene after the ambulance’s arrival. “I was shocked when I saw that it was Maria helping the man, she seemed so confident, almost as if she was already a nurse,” said Baker, “Maria is a leader in all aspects. I could tell when I first met her that she was going to be someone who will make an impact one day. She was always very willing to learn and to motivate others.”

After the man was safely transported to the hospital, Whicker met her mother and the rest of her family at IUPUI’s Campus Center for the ceremony. “My mom came running up to me with tears running down her face, and in that moment I knew I was meant to be a nurse. Knowing that this man was okay because I took the time to stop and help a complete stranger meant so much to me and I will never forget it.”