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Navy nurse awarded for saving man’s life on Washington ferry

A Navy nurse has been awarded for saving the life of a civilian on board a Washington state ferry in December.

Lt. Cmdr. Erika Schilling, a nurse midwife at Naval Hospital Bremerton, was presented the Life Ring Award on Jan. 18 from Washington State Ferries, an honor usually reserved for ferry employees who respond to life and death emergencies, the Navy release said.

In Schilling’s case, however, an exception was made.

While traveling with her two young sons on a ferry from Kingston to Edmunds on Dec. 2, she overheard a woman speaking frantically on the phone.

“I just happened to be there and hear that help was needed. I heard her on the phone saying, ‘this is an emergency.’ My ears went up,” Schilling said.

A passenger had slumped over and was not breathing. The man’s heart had stopped.

Schilling, who has 21 years combined experience with Navy Nurse Corps and as a hospital corpsman, rushed to the scene and immediately laid the man on the ground, where she began performing CPR.

A crew member quickly arrived with an Automated External Defibrillator, while Schilling and a fellow passenger alternated performing CPR. In the end, it took 14 minutes and an exhausting effort by Schilling to save the man’s life.

“I was sweating afterwards. My arms and upper body felt like I’d been through one of the hardest workouts I’d ever done,” she said.

Schilling credited her military training for her quick response.

“I respond to emergencies. It’s what I do,” she explained.

Once the ferry docked, EMTs took the resuscitated patient to Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton. When Schilling learned that the man’s wife was unfamiliar with the area, she took it upon herself to drive the concerned spouse 45 minutes to the hospital.

The man is currently recovering at his home in Spokane. Schilling has since spoken with him to check on his progress.

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