Hospice nurse helps save life on Ozark highway

Thursday, January 6, 2011 | 6:41 p.m. CST

OZARK — Nurse Debbie Rittershouse was on the way to visit her mother on Monday when she happened upon a near-fatal car crash on U.S. 65 in Ozark.

A red SUV had smashed into a rock bluff just off the highway.

Rittershouse, who works as a hospice nurse in Springfield, stopped to see if she could help.

"I'm a nurse. Is there anything I can do?" the 52-year-old Springfield resident recalled asking the officer on the scene.

Ozark Police Officer Tim Fielden had already bashed out a window on the Chevrolet Trailblazer. Inside, he saw an unresponsive woman and a badly injured girl.

Fielden turned his attention to the 12-year-old, Christina Hughes.

Rittershouse and Officer Nathan Lewis checked the driver for any signs of life.

Debbie Deweese, 52, of Kissee Mills, didn't have a pulse. Her face was blue, and she wasn't breathing.

"We need to get her out of the car," Rittershouse said she told the officers, who promptly followed her lead.

The officers pried open the door of the SUV and pulled Deweese from the vehicle and laid her on the ground.

Rittershouse went to work.

"I hope I can get her back," she said she thought.

She carefully counted each chest compression. It had been a while since she'd performed CPR in an emergency.

In fact, it had been more than two years, when she drove up on a different accident, that time on Kansas Expressway in Springfield.

A young woman had been broadsided. Rittershouse tried for 10 minutes but couldn't save her.

But on the side of the road on Monday, Rittershouse continued to hope this time would be different.

After the second round of mouth-to-mouth, Deweese's face suddenly shifted from pale blue to a lively shade of pink.

"That was the most exciting thing on Earth," Rittershouse said. "I knew then that it was gonna be OK."

When ambulance crews arrived moments later, Deweese was conscious and talking.

As EMTs worked on the two victims, Rittershouse slipped away.

"I didn't want to get in the way," she said Wednesday. "Those guys do that stuff every day."

And while police thought the help they received was anything but routine, they didn't know whom to thank.

They even called around to area hospitals to find the Good Samaritan but had no luck.

They weren't able to find her until a friend of hers read a story in Wednesday's Springfield News-Leader about the mystery woman who helped save a life.

That friend called the newspaper with Rittershouse's contact information.

Rittershouse said Ozark police called her Wednesday afternoon to say thank you.

Deweese had suffered two broken hips and other injuries, but her condition was stable. Her granddaughter, Hughes, had two broken ankles and may require surgery on her face, Fielden said.

After leaving the accident, a shaken Rittershouse resumed her journey toward her mother's house, calling a friend and co-worker on the way.

The two hospice workers shared a moment of satisfaction — in their line of work, death is nearly certain.

Hospice nurses care for patients with a terminal diagnosis. All in Rittershouse's care have six months or less to live.

"It was a great feeling to actually get this one back," Rittershouse said.

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