Nurse is Texas hospital's first Good Samaritan honoree

August 15, 2021


Cortney Shelton says she wants to believe that anyone with medical training would have responded just as she did when she saw a motorcyclist fly off of his bike on a busy interstate.

Police investigate at the scene near Wills Point, Texas, where John Zumbro was badly injured in a motorcycle crash in May 2020. The cyclist credits nurse Cortney Shelton, who works at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital – Tyler, and her then-13-year-old daughter for saving his life.

The registered nurse pulled off the road, gave her two young daughters strict instructions not to leave the car and ran to where the man was lying unconscious. When he woke, she kept him calm and immobilized. He was airlifted to the Tyler, Texas, hospital where she works.

Shelton's level-headed response to the trauma inspired her employer, CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital – Tyler, to create a Good Samaritan Award and bestow the inaugural honor on Shelton. Shelton is director of surgery pre-op at the hospital.

Shelly Welch, chief nursing officer at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System, said, "Jesus teaches us to serve one another, and that's exactly what Cortney did in this situation."

Circumstances align
Shelton said she was headed home to Tyler after visiting her mother in Wills Point, Texas, about 50 miles away on that day in May 2020. She and her daughters had started back earlier on a different route but went back to Wills Point because her mother had left her purse in Shelton's car.

When they headed out of Wills Point for the second time, Shelton gave in to her daughters' request that they take Interstate 20 because the girls knew they would have better Internet access for their mobile devices. "It's not really a route that I would normally have taken just because the other way is quicker," Shelton said.

Cortney Shelton and John Zumbro at an awards ceremony at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital – Tyler in east Texas. Shelton was honored for coming to Zumbro's aid at the scene of a motorcycle crash that broke his neck.

As she drove onto the interstate ramp, Shelton said she saw a motorcyclist ahead of her. She turned away from him as she prepared to merge onto the busy freeway, but her 13-year-old daughter, Kylie, who was beside her in the front seat, was looking in the direction the motorcycle had headed. "She saw him being thrown from the motorcycle and of course said 'Mom, stop, stop!'"

Shelton turned her head just in time to see the airborne motorcyclist land in tall weeds on the roadside. She said her first thought was the safety of her daughters as she made the split-second decision to leave them in the car on the shoulder of the interstate ramp and administer first aid.

"That's just in me, to help somebody. So, I pulled over, made them stay in the car and got over as far as I could so we wouldn't get hit."

Remembering trauma training
Shelton found the motorcyclist on his back, unconscious and, fortunately, still wearing his helmet. From her training as a trauma nurse early in her career, she knew not to let the man turn his head, so she braced it between her knees as she called 911 and waited for help.

In the 20 minutes or so that it took the ambulance to arrive, the rider regained consciousness. "He was disoriented," she remembered. "I just tried to remind him, 'You can't get up, you just had a motorcycle accident.' He was like, 'I'm not on a motorcycle,' and I'm like, 'Well, not anymore.'"

Doctors at CHRISTUS Mother Frances told the motorcyclist, John Zumbro, that his injuries included a broken neck. Had he moved his head, they told him, he might have been permanently paralyzed.

Shelton reached out to Zumbro several weeks after his accident. She wanted to let him know that she could fill him in on what happened, in case there were gaps in his memory due to his injuries and trauma.

Zumbro and his wife quickly responded and started to correspond with Shelton. She didn't meet Zumbro in person again until the award ceremony in May, about a year after the crash, when he surprised Shelton by coming to thank her.

Guardian angel
Zumbro spoke at the ceremony and taped his account of the crash for the hospital. He remembered losing control of his bike and praying "Dear God, help me" as it slipped off the entry ramp, and waking up on his back in "horrendous pain." He was unable to move his neck because Shelton had immobilized it.

"I guess it was the way the sun was shining through and the way she was looking down at me, but I thought I'd finally found my guardian angel," Zumbro said.

Zumbro gave Shelton two angel pendant necklaces at the award ceremony, one for her and one for Kylie. "There is not enough I could ever do for that woman and her child. They saved my life, literally," he said. "I mean, how do you pay someone back for that?"

Shelton said: "I hope people are Good Samaritans at all times, especially any of us in health care. I think it's part of our due diligence to help others and part of our mission work to help anybody in need."

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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