Fairfield University nursing student saves man's life

Fairfield University nursing student saves man's life

Image: Erin Griffin Fairfield University student Erin Griffin says the skills she has learned in her School of Nursing classes prepared her to help a World War II veteran in distress.

Dr. Doris T. Lippman, professor of nursing at Fairfield, said Griffin quite simply saved the patient's life. "He was close to dying, maybe minutes away ... What she did was incredible, especially considering she has only been in nursing school for five months."

The elderly man had been attending a meeting at the West Haven VA Hospital's Community Care Center, an outpatient facility, where Griffin was finishing up her last day of a clinical rotation. She rushed to examine him after a yoga teacher couldn't wake him. "He was drooling and turning purple," said Griffin, who began the School of Nursing's Second Degree BSN Program in May. "His jaw was rigid."

Three things came to mind: her ABC's, or as they are known in the nursing world, "Airway, Breathing and Circulation." "I realized he was cyanotic and that he wasn't getting sufficient oxygen," the Branford resident recounted. "I did a jaw thrust where you hook your thumbs to get the jaw and the airway open. His tongue was stuck, and he was choking on it."

After Griffin performed the maneuver, his tongue fell forward and the 92-year-old man gasped for air "That was the catalyst that got him to breathe," she recalled.

A native of Minneapolis, Griffin is an 'adult learner' at Fairfield. She lived in Italy after earning a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001. For six years, she taught English and worked as a translator in Rome. It was also in Italy that she met her husband, Vincenzo. The couple moved to Connecticut two years ago after Vincenzo received a job offer to work in the aerospace engineering industry.

Griffin knew nursing was her calling, and she soon realized Fairfield was where she wanted to be. The Second Degree Program is primarily for people looking for a career change into nursing. Students have a bachelor's degree, most often in liberal arts, but wish to be registered nurses. "I can't say enough good things about the School," said Griffin. "The skills I've been taught there so far helped prepare me to help this veteran."

A central component of Fairfield's Second Degree BSN Program is rotating through the "VA Nursing Academy," a federal pilot program partnering the School of Nursing with the West Haven VA Hospital. Students learn about nursing by doing clinicals at the hospital in medical surgical care, psychiatric care, orthopedics, cardiology, and other specialties.

For Griffin, her clinical rotation in mental healthcare has put her in touch with veterans of World War II through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has seen veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anger management, grief, depression and everyday stress. "It's been an enlightening experience and a very well-rounded one," she shared.

Dr. Lippman, an Army veteran, is Griffin's mentor. She reports paramedics had taken the veteran to the hospital for further evaluation and he is doing fine. "He is a widower and lives an independent life despite his advanced age," she said. "He lives on his own, but I have to tell you that if Erin didn't do what she did, he would likely not be living independently anymore. We're so proud of her."

As for Griffin, she's on track to graduate in August with hopes of working in public health nursing. "I think that is where the answer to a lot of healthcare issues lies."

Posted On: 10-27-2009 10:10 AM

Volume: 42 Number: 104