Memorial nurse saves accident victim’s life

Nicole Filippone heard what sounded like someone revving an engine.

Wondering where the noise was coming from, she looked around from behind the steering wheel Wednesday morning on the familiar stretch of Lincoln Way East near Mishawaka High School. It was just after 6:30, the normal time of morning she heads toward South Bend to work in the Childbirth Unit of Memorial Hospital.

She had been listening to a country music radio station and thinking about the day ahead when a vehicle no more than a hundred yards in front of her suddenly crossed the center line. The Memorial RN watched as the vehicle hopped the curb and drove onto the lawn of Mishawaka High School. Then, it swerved back across Lincoln Way, hopping that curb and striking the corner of a house.

Nicole immediately pulled to the side of the road in front of the high school and put her flashers on. Jimmy Bernhard, another motorist who witnessed the accident, did the same. “I felt it was only natural to stop and see if I could help. That’s what everybody should do,” he said.

Nicole grabbed the cell phone from her pocket and instinctively called 911 as she ran toward the vehicle. You see, in addition to being a Beacon nurse, Nicole also serves as a reserve officer with the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Posse.

“The operator had us open the doors to the car because it was smoking. I saw a man behind the wheel,” Nicole said. “I could see him breathing and hear him making moaning noises. Then, he stopped breathing.”

She checked and couldn’t feel a pulse.

Jimmy Bernhard pulled the man out of the car and, with Nicole’s help, laid him on the ground in the snow. Nicole knelt beside the man and started chest compressions. She counted 30 compressions and checked his pulse. Nothing.

She performed another 30 compressions. Still no pulse. That’s when she stopped counting and just started giving continuous compressions.

“I decided I’d keep going until help arrived,” she said.

Mishawaka Police arrived first and took over the chest compressions. The accident victim was alive, and gasping for air, when paramedics arrived. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.

“I was glad Nicole was there, being that she was a nurse,” Jimmy Bernhard said. “I was panicked when I approached the car and wouldn’t have known what to do on him without her there. She did a wonderful job; she was very calm and collected given the scary situation. I would hope somebody like her would be around if something happened to me like that.”

The St. Joseph County Police Department commended Nicole on Facebook for her heroic actions:

“Thank you to our Sheriff’s Posse Reserve Officer Nicole Filippone for her quick action. Not only did she call 911 to report this crash, but she then administered CPR to the driver until the Mishawaka Police Department and EMS arrived at the scene. Nicole, thank you for your service to our community.”

Nicole has been interviewed by WSBT and ABC57. Click on the TV station links to watch these reports.

Patty De Stefano, manager of the Childbirth Unit, also praised Nicole’s actions.

“Nicole is such a positive energetic nurse. She’s always willing to jump in and help, so this was not a surprise to hear that she served as a first responder to a motor vehicle accident,” De Stefano said.

Nicole is thankful she was in the right place at the right time. 

“If no one was there until police found him, he may not have made it,” she said. “The biggest takeaway from something like this is for everyone in the public to stop and call 911 and help someone in need. And if you’re not trained in CPR, familiarize yourself with the basics.

“Doing CPR immediately when he stopped breathing, that’s what saved his life. Getting the blood to pump through the heart to the brain, that kept him alive,” Nicole added. “It felt surreal trying to save somebody, by myself, out of the hospital setting. I know I have a duty to respond, but as a good-hearted person who cares, I would always stop.

“And I would pray someone would stop for me.”