Tiffany Lehman has actually gone more than viral. She’s a broadcast and print superstar, as well as an internet “rock star.”
And best of all, she’s one of “us,” meaning a stakeholder in this often put-upon world we call long-term care.
Today, she proudly stands as a shining example of what a nursing home nurse can do when faced with an emergency situation. Over the last week, she has been featured in national publications such as USA Today and broadcasts such as “Inside Edition.” There also have been local broadcasts and newspapers across Kansas and Texas, and numerous online outlets, among others.
In brief, Lehman was the right person, in the right place, with the right amount of guts to step forward and save a little baby’s life while descending in flight last week outside of Dallas.
She’s also the director of nursing at the Healthcare Resort of Wichita, a skilled nursing and assisted living facility in Wichita, KS, run by Mission Health Communities.
“I kind of stopped answering the phone because I’ve had so many [media outlets] calling,” she admitted to me yesterday.
And why not? It’s not every day a complete stranger helps out another when the latter’s 11-month-old baby is burning with 104-degree fever and flailing in the middle of a seven-and-a-half-minute seizure. Yet that was exactly what Lehmann did after she and boyfriend Alvin Dodson sprang to action last Thursday. The drama came near the end of their flight from Tampa, where Lehman had attended Mission Health Communities’ “Art of Success” conference.
The pair first thought baby Nevaeh had ear pain while preparing to land at a layover stop en route to San Antonio, where the baby’s father will be stationed with the U.S. Air Force. Then her mother, Janay Flowers, called out and pushed the attendant button for help.
Lehman, RN BSN, jumped two rows back, grabbed the distressed infant, who was turning blue, and laid her across her lap. While Dodson alerted the crew and retrieved oxygen, Lehman, a former ED-ICU nurse, stripped the baby of its onesie and applied ice around her joints.
“There was a little time frame there where I thought this baby was going to die,” the 37-year-old admitted. “Her tongue actually went over the back of her throat and I had to sweep it away to get her breathing again.”
The pair and members of the flight crew “tried to keep the chaos limited,” so relatively few passengers knew what was going on, Lehman said. Perhaps that’s why no phone videos of the heroics have emerged, even though the 15-minute span must have felt like an eternity to those involved.
Paramedics were at the gate when the airplane landed and whisked mother and child away to Baylor Regional Medical Center in Grapevine. Doctors there tended to the baby and theorized a virus had caused the near-fatal encounter.
Someone on the plane apparently alerted the local Fox TV station and that’s where this story takes a particularly fortuitous turn. During a broadcast interview, Flowers praised the unfamiliar passengers who had helped her. Dotson’s mother, having heard from the couple about their unusual flight, saw the interview and put two and two together. She said she thought she had heard about their exploits on TV.
Lehman and Dodson then reached out to Flowers via Facebook on Monday to inquire about Nevaeh and talked via video chat. Flowers was overcome with gratitude and asked to be able to identify the pair publicly.
“Tiffany is a rock star,” Flowers told Yahoo Lifestyle. “God put us together.”
That’s how a long-term care nursing director comes to having to ignore her phone due to too many well-wishers and hopeful media callers.
“We all learn the same thing in nursing school,” Lehman explained matter-of-factly. “We learn how to take care of a child during a seizure, and emergency situations whether they’re in a nursing home or hospital or wherever.
“There are emergency situations all the time,” she added. “Patients code and die, they have accidents. The only difference between us and hospital nurses is we don’t have a doctor on hand all the time, 24 hours a day. We have to have more independence and critical thinking abilities than hospital nurses.”
But nobody said there would be such a deluge of positive media attention.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” the DON admitted. “Work has been pretty quiet. I try to keep [the hubbub] away. I have work to do, but my phone’s been ringing non-stop.”
Selfless, lifesaving action deserves a happy postlude. Lehman could have looked the other way, worried she might pick up an infection, been sued or somehow lost her license. But she chose not to.
“I think sometimes you have to put all that aside and remember we’re first-responders,” she said. “And when somebody’s in trouble, you have to help. That’s your God-given talent and you have to use it.”
The final icing on the cake for this story involves, well, actual icing and cake.
Lehman and Dotson have accepted Flowers’ invitation to attend Nevaeh’s first birthday party. It’s May 19 in San Antonio.
Now the big question becomes: Is someone from American Airlines going to realize what a good story this is and step up to fly their passenger heroes to the joyous reunion?
Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.