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Richland nurse jumps into action during airplane emergency

Energy Northwest chief executive Brad Sawatzke gives Cathey Anderson, Energy Northwest occupational health supervisor, a life-saving award at an employee meeting at Columbia Generating Station on Monday.
Energy Northwest chief executive Brad Sawatzke gives Cathey Anderson, Energy Northwest occupational health supervisor, a life-saving award at an employee meeting at Columbia Generating Station on Monday. Courtesy Energy Northwest

Cathey Anderson was a little bored on a flight back from Wendover, Nev., so she’d already noticed that one passenger had made three trips to the restroom during the short flight.

As the man in his 70s passed by where she and her husband Chuck sat, the man stopped and looked confused.

“Sir, I believe your seat is up toward the front of the plane,” Cathey remembers her husband saying.

She stood up a little in her seat to watch him continue down the aisle.

As soon as he sat down, he slumped over onto the woman sitting next to him, she said.

Before the flight crew could ask for help from any medical staff on the plane, Cathey was on her way down the aisle.

Her actions on that Aug. 5 flight to Yakima put her in the spotlight Monday at an all-employee meeting for Energy Northwest in Richland.

Chief Executive Brad Sawatzke presented her with the agency’s “CEO Lifesaving Award.”

But the fact that Cathey would jump into action in an emergency was no surprise to those who work with her, he said.

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Cathey Anderson, the Energy Northwest occupational health supervisor and registered nurse, helps with annual exams and in the occasional medical incident at work, plus makes sure the agency remains in compliance with health-related regulations for the nuclear power plant. Tri-City Herald file

She takes ownership and pride in her profession, he said. The registered nurse is the occupational health supervisor for the agency’s nuclear power plant and other facilities.

At first, airplane staff thought the ill man was having a stroke.

But Cathey knew that his jerking body and frothing mouth likely meant a seizure.

Two other nurses were on board, arriving at the man’s seat just behind her.

She counted to three and they lifted him into the aisle, putting him on his side so he would not choke or breathe liquid into his lungs.

She also gave him oxygen and the nurses wrapped up a cut on his arm to control bleeding.

Cathey was able to consult with the pilots and help with their decision to continue to Yakima, about 30 minutes away, where medical crews were waiting.

“Her quick action to administer medical treatment may have averted a tragedy,” Sawatzke said.

The most rewarding part for Cathey were the minutes after the man regained consciousness.

He had never had a seizure before. He was scared and was traveling alone, she said.

“I was able to comfort and help him through this experience,” she said.

It’s the first time she’s stepped in to help a stranger in an emergency, she said, although part of her job at Energy Northwest is responding to occasional emergencies, including cardiac problems.

But her family said showing compassion for others is not unusual for her.

“She’s taken care of a lot of other people’s babies” on airline flights, said her husband, who was there to see her receive the award as the security program supervisor for Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station.

And then there was the time she helped two men in their late 80s as they were having trouble using the ticket kiosk machine before their flight.

As Chuck and Cathey waited for their flight, they heard ambulance sirens. Later one of the men came looking for Cathey and told her his friend had a heart attack on the escalator and died.

Cathey was able to comfort him as they waited for the same flight to Seattle.

So, no — it was no surprise that Cathey was willing to help in an airplane emergency, said her daughter, Taylor Pack, an operations administrative assistant at Columbia Generating Station.

But seeing her mother receive an award was a nice surprise, she said.

“I am a little embarrassed because I am a nurse,” Cathey said when she received the award. “I would help no matter where I was at.”

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews
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