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Chelsea Gibbons Calls on Nursing Training to Save Life of Duke Football Player

Chelsea GibbonsWINTERVILLE—On the NCAA playing fields, their schools have battled as bitter rivals for as long as anyone can remember. But when Duke University football player Blair Holliday nearly died after a jet skiing accident this month, it was Chelsea Gibbons, a former N.C. State cheerleader and current Pitt Community College nursing student, working to keep his heart pumping.

Though Holliday is still recovering at the UNC Hospitals Trauma Center in Chapel Hill, the 19-year-old California native is probably still alive because of Gibbons’ skill and quick reaction.

Holliday and teammate Jamison Crowder were jet skiing on Lake Tillery July 4 when the two collided around 5 p.m. The impact sent Holliday airborne and left him unconscious with serious head injuries. Though visibly shaken, Crowder was not seriously hurt.

Others who were celebrating Independence Day at the lake came to Holliday’s aid, pulling him onto a dock not far from where Gibbons was enjoying a Fourth of July picnic at a family friend’s house. Gibbons, who heard the collision but did not see it, said she knew Holliday was in trouble when she witnessed him being removed from the lake.

“He was like a ragdoll when they pulled him out of the water,” she said. “He was just hanging there [in his life preserver].”

As she swam over to Holliday, the 23-year-old Gibbons says adrenaline kicked in and her nursing instincts took over. In between strokes, she shouted instructions to those on the dock on how to care for Holliday until she could reach him and assess his condition.

“I didn’t really think twice or get nervous,” said Gibbons, who is in her second year of the nursing program at Pitt. “We’re taught in nursing to assess the patient, so I went through in my mind everything I’ve learned in checking him out.”

After identifying herself as a nursing student, Gibbons checked Holliday’s pulse while her mom, Debbie, spoke with a 911 operator. From her nursing training, Gibbons said she knew what to focus on and that Holliday’s pulse was weak and his breathing shallow. When she could no longer find a pulse, she says she gave him two rescue breaths and started chest compressions.

“I’d never actually used CPR, except on a mannequin in training,” Gibbons said, adding that she had just renewed her CPR certification in June.

When Montgomery County EMS personnel arrived at the scene, Gibbons says they began administering oxygen to Holliday through an oxygen mask. He was taken to nearby Stanly Regional Medical Center and eventually transported by helicopter to UNC Hospitals.

Though many would describe her actions to keep Holliday alive as heroic, a very modest Gibbons says she was just doing her job.

“I still feel like it was something that had to be done,” she said. “I don’t really feel like a hero, I guess. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a nurse if I weren’t interested in helping people, and that help isn’t limited to just people in the hospital.

“I guess I’m just thankful I knew what to do.”

Gibbons met with Holliday’s parents at UNC Hospitals on Thursday. She said she has wanted to check on Holliday in person ever since the accident took place but didn’t want to intrude.

“The people who own the lake house [where the accident occurred] spoke with his parents and they wanted to meet me,” Gibbons said. “I have wanted to visit, but I wanted to respect their privacy.”

Following her visit, Gibbons said Holliday “looked great,” adding, “I feel much better now that I’ve seen him.”

A High Point native, Gibbons attended N.C. State University out of high school and was a member of the Wolfpack cheerleading squad for three years. But she always knew she wanted to pursue a career as a registered nurse and transferred to PCC.

Last week’s accident has provided Gibbons with assurance that she has selected a career pathway that suits her well.

“I’m really glad that I have chosen this profession; I really like helping others and to know that I have helped,” she said. “It was a confidence boost that I have chosen the right career for me.”