Nurses call man's survival a miracle

Nurses Sally Ani (left) and Jo Losa Masauding recount on Monday the events from the day before, when they administered first aid to a man whose arm was bitten off by an alligator at Lake Moultrie.

On the spot, 5 fought to save alligator victim

MONCKS CORNER — It looked like a gunshot wound. Maybe a stabbing. Maybe even a hoax.

Five local nurses didn't know what was happening when a bleeding man staggered toward them calling for help and then collapsed — but they knew what to do.

Sally Ani and Marisol Dalusong immediately dug their bare hands into the man's shoulder to try to stop the bleeding with pressure. The blood kept oozing through their fingers.

Ani, a registered nurse for 42 years, shouted to the 100 or so people for a towel. No one had one. "I was about to take my shirt off and put it on him," she said.

At that moment, she said a little prayer, "Blessed mother, I need a towel. I need a towel right now."

Ani looked under the table and there was a towel. "I looked at it and I said, 'Thank you.' "

A day later, Bill Hedden's condition had been upgraded to fair, according to a Medical University Hospital spokeswoman.

The nurses say it was no accident that they were some 50 yards away Sunday when Hedden's arm was torn off by an alligator while swimming in Lake Moultrie on Sunday at the Short Stay Naval Recreational Park. "I think it's a miracle," said Jo Losa Masauding, a critical care nurse at the Medical University of South Carolina.

After all, the women were there that day with the Bicol Association of Charleston, a Roman Catholic group, as part of a three-day celebration honoring their patron saint, the Virgin of Penafrancia. It was the Virgin Mother, they said, who answered their prayers. "We believe the Blessed Mother directed him to go to that place," said Ani, the organization's founder.

The nurses stayed with Hedden for 15 minutes until paramedics arrived and put him into a helicopter. It seemed like forever, they said. The man was losing blood fast.

Ani, who was front and center in a picture on the front page of Monday's Post and Courier, put the towel on his shoulder and then some ice, but his blood pressure kept falling.

"I thought we stopped the bleeding, but I felt the warmth of the towel getting wetter and wetter," she said.

They talked to him. Told him stories about the Blessed Mother. Maybe a joke or two. Anything to keep him relaxed.

The 59-year-old Hedden never lost consciousness and, just as important, never lost his spirit. "He was so very determined," Masauding said. "He was so determined to stay awake and so determined to call his wife."

He was so grateful, they said. "He would look up and say thank you," Ani said. "I said, 'It's OK, don't worry about it.' "

A day later, the events still cycle through their minds. Masauding, a critical care nurse for 38 years, has seen trauma victims before. Ani, an oncology nurse, has not. She took off from work Monday because she couldn't stop shaking. "It got so emotional," Ani said. "I thought, 'What if?' "

Ani knew Monsignor Simon Peter Ignacio was there in case they needed to read last rites. Thankfully, she said, it never got to that.

"I'm so glad he's OK," she said. "It's just a matter of trying to pull yourself together and see what you did at the call of duty."

Grace Osea and Mercy Salvatierra were the other nurses who helped. Lilian Losa Navarro, Masauding's sister who is a registered nurse visiting from San Diego, also pitched in.

The nurses all were relieved when the paramedics showed up. They knew he would survive; Masauding called Hedden's wife and told her so.

When they were done, as the Berkeley County EMS paramedics loaded him into the helicopter, the women gathered one more time with the rest of their organization and said a prayer.