Trauma Nurse Lands Statewide Award

Photo of Joe Tanner
Joe Tanner

Joe Tanner isn’t the typical recipient of the Oregon Health Authority’s Life Saving Medal. It’s usually given to an emergency medical technician, or EMT. Tanner is a registered nurse on the Neuro Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center who cares for patients brought in through the hospital’s emergency room. What makes this unique is what he did for himself that will help others.

Tanner received his trauma certification in early 2016. Later that year on a perfect fall day he headed to the Oregon Coast to surf at Ecola State Park. “The day was beautiful, the water was clear, no clouds in the sky and the surf was phenomenal,” says Tanner. “I had one of the best surfing days on the Oregon Coast.” He took a moment to rest vertically on his surf board that’s when he felt something hit him. “I was jarred like I’d been rear-ended.”  When he saw the shark’s gills a foot from his face he knew he was in trouble. Survival mode kicked. Tanner repeatedly hit the shark until it swam away then he saw the trail of his own blood. Thinking the shark would smell the blood and return, Tanner wondered, “is this how people die”?  Clearly injured, he hung off the surf board and hurriedly paddled toward the shore and stopped when he felt his fins dig in the sand. “That’s when people came running to help.”

His trauma nurse training kicked in. He asked bystanders to call 911 and ask for a medical helicopter then he directed them on how to save his damaged limb.  “I asked what they saw on my body, was there any gushing blood or arterial bleeding.” Tanner instructed them to tie a tourniquet just in case. He said someone ripped off their t-shirt and placed it around his leg but he knew it wasn’t tight enough. He told them to get the leash from his surf board and tie a square knot so it wouldn’t come lose. By this time, the police showed up and began packing the wound. The EMTs arrived shortly afterwards and confirmed the arterial bleed.

When the medical flight team arrived, Tanner directed them to take him to Legacy Emanuel, his own hospital.  Though a little foggy, Tanner remembers arriving in the emergency room and seeing colleagues who began taking care of his injuries then he was whisked away to surgery. Tanner spent several days in the Neuro Trauma ICU. His clear thinking, leadership, recent trauma certification, and calmness contributed to saving his own live. Better yet, in that critical moment, he trained others on how to tie a tourniquet and save a live. For that reason, this non EMT received this statewide award during a recent ceremony in Bend, Oregon.

By Vicki Guinn

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