VA Palo Alto Health Care System
VAPAHCS Nurse Saves a Life
As I interviewed Carissa Gascon, I sensed I was sitting across from a selfless woman who, from early childhood on, was dedicated to helping her fellow man.
Carissa was born into a very large Filipino family in the Luzon Province. Even though her family was of modest means, she witnessed her parents and grandparents being generous with what little they had, taking care of the local homeless and volunteering to help needy families. With the encouragement of her grandmother and mother, Carissa decided to pursue a career in nursing, and in 1997 Carissa graduated from the University of Pangasinan with an RN degree. Following graduation, she moved to California, passed all the appropriate licensing examinations, and began her career.
Carissa joined Veterans Affairs in 2003 and, like her parents and grandparents, spends her free time volunteering to help others. In 2003, she cofounded The Yes Charity, a non-profit with the mission to educate and provide medical assistance to those in need.
Carissa’s helping nature again manifested itself on a recent flight to London, when a fellow passenger stood up holding his son and shouting in a panicked voice, “Does anyone know CPR? Help me, my son is dying!” She responded instantly, rushing to assist the 12-year-old boy, Macky Banker, who was lying lifeless in the aisle of Business Class while the airplane whipped across the sky at over 500 miles per hour. After receiving permission from the father to help the boy, Carissa immediately determined Macky had stopped breathing and had a very weak pulse. She also believed his airway was obstructed. She rolled the young boy on his side and began pounding his upper back to dislodge any obstructions in his airway. She continued thrusting on Macky’s chest to create some blood flow, followed by some breaths to resuscitate the boy.
Although Carissa was confident in her skills, she recalls distinctly thinking, “God, let me do the right thing, let this boy live!” After working on Macky and continually assessing him, he began to breathe and his pulse returned. The initial relief was followed by two seizures before Macky became conscious. Other passengers assisted as well, calming Macky’s hysterical father and brother so that Carissa was free to medically assist and comfort the young boy.
Carissa recommended to the flight’s Captain that they divert to the nearest airport so that Macky could have a follow-up evaluation at a hospital. As the airplane diverted to land, Carissa held the young boy on her lap, reassuring him, as his father (a former Marine) and brother gathered their composure. Soon she was on the ground in Philadelphia, briefing the EMTs and saying her goodbyes to the Bankers.
Carissa credits the VA for their process of ongoing training for nurses and creating an environment of continuous improvement and education.
As I ended my chat with Carissa Gascon, our VA Palo Alto hero, she shared that embedded in her memory were Macky’s father’s eyes: intense, filled with tears and fear, screaming “do anything to keep my son alive.”
“This experience has reset my button! You know, basic skills can save lives!” Carissa exemplifies our core values, ICARE – Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence!