No ordinary Sunday: Nursing alumna marches for racial justice, administers life-saving care

On Sunday, May 31, people protesting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis blocked traffic on Interstate 244 in downtown Tulsa. Suddenly, a truck and trailer surged through the crowd and, in the scramble to safety, a man named Ryan Knight toppled off the bridge and landed on the ground below, sustaining serious injuries.

Among the first people on the scene to assist Knight was Chelsea Ridener, who had graduated the month before from The University of Tulsa’s bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. Originally from Stephenville, Texas, Ridener began her position as a registered nurse on June 21 in the Pediatric Oncology Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa.

Ridener kindly took the time to share her experience, including why she took part in the Black Lives Matter march that day and how her training as a nurse empowered her to help a man in need.

Wife, mother, ally

I chose to be a part of this peaceful march to use my privilege, as a young, white female to act as an ally to the Black community. I have the privilege to use my voice and be heard without fear of irrational repercussions that may bring me physical harm. My voice is not perceived as a threat because of the color of my skin. For this reason, I decided to use that privilege to try and aid in the change that our society needs.

I find it extremely important to highlight the fact that I am just an ally in this movement. My position in all of this is to lift up and empower the Black voices that have been screaming for help for decades.

Chelsea Ridener with her husbandThere is a very personal side to my commitment: I am married to an African American man, have one precious Black son and, in October, will welcome our beautiful Black daughter into the world. As a wife and a mother to amazing humans within a targeted race, I am heartbroken to witness how they are treated. I see first-hand how my husband is treated and the fear that he must address within himself before any action he takes. Things that would never cross my mind.

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Prepared to deliver care – wherever, whenever, to whomever

While many who attended the protest stood on the I-244 bridge, I remained in the streets below and continued to march with the larger group of attendees. They planned to march another four miles, I believe, but I had to get back to my son at home, so my friend and I decided to head back to the car. As we crossed underneath the I-244 bridge, I heard screaming. When I saw the man, Ryan Knight, who had fallen off the bridge, he was already on the ground with two people standing around him. I had heard the screams right before seeing him, so I am sure it had just happened.

Protester holding a sign that reads Tu lucha es mi lucha Your fight is my fightMy first thought was “OK, something is wrong,” and I knew I could not just walk away from whatever it was. That is not who I am nor part of the career I have chosen. So, I started running toward him. I had no idea what had happened. However, I did know that whatever had happened, he needed medical care and I had the skills to provide that.

Fortunately, in summer 2018 I had been an extern with Professor Angela Martindale for the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (OKMRC) Disaster Preparedness Summer Externship. (In this program, nursing students spend the summer becoming OKMRC volunteers and undergo extensive disaster preparedness training, culminating in a full-scale community-based disaster exercise.) That experience gave me the confidence and ability to react to a stressful situation out in the community. As soon as I reached Ryan, I was able to think clearly as a medical professional because I had been involved in disaster-training situations that taught me how to remain calm and do what I have been educated to do. My BSN empowered me with the knowledge and critical thinking I needed to take my immediate observations and dive into a more focused assessment of Ryan on the spot.

As I ran up, I could see his fingers moving, eyes open and hear him speaking. Over and over he kept saying, “I can’t breathe. Help me. I can’t breathe.” Immediately, I established my name and education and asked one of the women already there to hold his neck and head still with both hands to stabilize his c-spine. Luckily, this woman stated that she previously worked as a medic and had a first aid kit in her backpack, so I was able to cut off Ryan’s shirt and the bandana around his neck to avoid any airway restriction and better visualize any injuries.

I did not have a stethoscope, so I just put my ear to his chest and could hear the air moving in his lungs. I knew that he could at least get some air, so I assured him that he was moving air and that I just needed him to keep breathing as best he could.

A crowd of protesters approaching the Interstate 244 overpass in TulsaI then moved on to a neuro exam where I found that he was awake, could recall what had happened, tell me who he was and who he came with. He could move his upper extremities but could not feel anything or move in his lower extremities. 500 Internal Server Error

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My best friend who attended with me prayed over Ryan for healing and me for clarity of mind. I truly believe that is why I never felt flustered. As I assessed Ryan further, I could hear the crowd that had surrounded us begin to pray over him as well. As I tended to his physical needs, they met the spiritual ones. They saved his life just as much as I did.

Ryan was terrified. As he lay there after this horrific accident, helpless, I had to ask him to be still and calm many times over. This was an impossible ask in such a situation, but I had to ensure that he would not suffer any further injury from the movements. I think the most important intervention was to keep Ryan calm and still while we waited for the ambulance that had the equipment needed to help him. As I spoke to him to implement this, all the people standing around prayed and kept the sage burning. We all were a part of his care.

The next thing I remember is someone handing me the phone with EMSA dispatch on the line, and I gave them a quick report of the patient and where we were located.

I continued to assess Ryan’s airway and lungs to make sure he kept moving air. We waited for about 30 minutes for EMSA to arrive. Toward the end of that time, I began to hear fluid in the lower portion of his lungs. I knew we needed them to arrive soon as I did not have the resources to move or help him if he lost his airway. However, I continued to speak to Ryan and attempted to keep him calm until they were there. I had to believe they would make it. The fire rescue team arrived first, and I gave them a quick report of what I had found, and they quickly and efficiently took over his care.

This is what I am trained to do and harbor an immense passion for. I am just thankful to have been where I was when I was – with the education and experience that I have. I am no hero, just someone who did her job out in the community.


Are you passionate about answering the health care needs of your community? If so, consider a career as a highly trained nurse.