Eileen Sasse never flinched while pressing her fingers into the bloody, sliced face of a young boy on the brink of shock from a horrific highway crash. She simply spoke slow and sweet for a half-hour, maybe 45 minutes.
"To me, it seemed like an eternity," Sasse said.
Waiting for paramedics to arrive, Sasse tried to stop the 10-year-old boy's bleeding and keep him calm, awake and out of shock. She did not know whether the boy survived, but her work on Dec. 22, 2013, earned her the Adult Hometown Heroes award from the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Call it nothing but good timing, she said.
Driving through northwest Nebraska on her way home to Monument that afternoon, Sasse, 53, and her husband saw a Chrysler minivan crumpled on the side of the road. Moments earlier, the van had collided with a pickup driven by a 15-year-old girl crossing the highway 13 miles south of Hay Springs, Neb., said Capt. Mike Gaudreault of the Nebraska State Patrol. The impact sent the boy flying out the window, into the pickup's bed and finally into a snowbank. His father picked him up and placed him in the driver's seat to keep warm.
Braving minus 20-degree wind chills as other cars stopped, Sasse rushed to the child, where her instincts as a charge nurse at Memorial Hospital North's gastrointestinal lab kicked in.
With his cheek sliced open to the bone, Sasse applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Then she buried a thought deep in her mind that he might not live.
"I just kept saying 'We're here with you, your dad is here, he's walking around,' and I said 'Your mom was right beside you,'" Sasse said.
Paramedics whisked the child away, and Sasse and her husband continued home - never learning more about the family, their names or whether the boy survived.
She just kept that day locked away in her mind, barely mentioning it.
Likewise, Sasse remained a nameless "guardian angel" to Dean Heise, the boy's father.
"All I remember about her is she had the most beautiful full-length wool coat on, dress coat, and she jumped right in the middle of all the blood," Heise said.
Heise left the crash with his son, Tyler Heise, in an ambulance. At the hospital, doctors said Tyler miraculously suffered nothing more than the deep facial cut, two more bone-deep lacerations on his elbows and a mild concussion.
Heise's wife fared worse, having had her ribs separated from her sternum. Their two other children suffered smaller cuts and bruises. Heise partially tore cartilage in his shoulder and had bone bruises. Everyone survived, but Heise and his wife are still recovering.
Until contacted by The Gazette this week, Heise often wondered who stopped to help his son.
"Tell her a great big thank you for helping to save my child's life," he said, beginning to choke up. "I'll forever be indebted to her."
To Sasse, the day was just like so many during her 32-year career.
She went to work, did her job, and moved on - keeping a level mind, a steady hand and a serenity to her voice during trying of times.
But finally knowing who she helped and that he survived, Sasse wept. "I feel like I did something - really did something."