Quick thinking and bikini top lead to incredible rescue
When you ask Christina Brenner to recount what happened that hot July afternoon, she will tell you she was just a mom doing what moms do. She gets uncomfortable with the word hero, though that’s what her son, friends and family said afterwards.
She insists she’s just a Mom.
While it’s true there’s no greater force than a mother’s love, friends, family and even Brenner herself admit she exhibited a number of superpowers that day. Each action was critical. The difference between life and death.
“Now looking back, I’m even surprised at myself. My brain opened up like a filing cabinet,” Brenner said.
Walking on water
The evening started like any other late summer afternoon. Christina Brenner, a recent graduate from Scott Community College’s (SCC) nursing program, and her family were enjoying time at her parent’s farm. Brenner was relaxing in the pool while her son rode ATV’s with a friend. It was the perfect kind of summer night, one filled with laughter, family and friends.
Suddenly, her 13-year-old son Peyton’s voice rang out, “Mom, I really messed up, I’m so sorry, so sorry.” Peyton had gotten into an ATV accident, running the quad into a fence and tree. He was able to hop off the ATV, but something was very, very wrong.
“I was saying ‘what honey, what honey?’ There was a lilac bush in between where I was so I couldn’t see him at first,” Brenner said. “He ran to the edge of the bush and lifted his hand off of his leg. Bright red blood was shooting out, spraying like a hose.”
She knew instantly he’d hit his femoral artery, the color of his blood like a flashing warning sign.
“I knew I had to stop the bleeding or slow it down. Injuries of that nature have about five minutes of life before you bleed out,” Brenner said.
In a surge of adrenaline and with astonishing speed and agility, Brenner leapt out of the pool. Her friend described it best. “He said, ‘I swear you walked on water…it was like the pool was a trampoline. You jumped out of it, landed and ran.’ He never could have believed it if he didn’t see it for himself.”
Bikini turned tourniquet
Flying (quite literally) into action, Brenner’s body and nurse training took over. She began yelling directions, telling Peyton to lay down and put his leg up.
“I knew I needed to stop the bleeding and I was screaming to call 911. I immediately put my forearm down and put all my weight against the wound as I tried to pull off my swimsuit to use as a tourniquet.”
Another mom heard her screaming and rushed over, helping her get the swimsuit top off. Between her family and friends she had a trauma operating room, whether they realized it or not.
“It’s still so fresh,” Brenner said as she described the scene. “I think I’ll never be able to tell this story without crying. Everybody did exactly as I asked.”
One of the most remarkable things about this story is that Brenner knew exactly what to ask, say and do to direct her makeshift medical team and stop the bleeding. When she saw her husband was distressed, she gave him a task and told him to go get a belt. When her mom was struggling to communicate with the 911 dispatcher, she took over.
“I finally just said ‘stop and listen.’ I screamed out ‘13, Caucasian male, femoral injury, need to be here now.’”
And when her son asked her if he was dying, in a remarkable showing of strength and courage she soothed his fears like only a mother can.
“I told him absolutely not. Today is not your day. This world needs you. I started asking him questions to take his mind off things. He’s a huge football fan so I asked him, ‘who’s your favorite player?’”
His answer? Jerry Rice because he’s the GOAT. As Peyton explained to his mom, GOAT stands for greatest of all time.
“I said no baby, you are.”
Mom, Nurse, Hero
The whole time she was talking to her son, Brenner was putting on a second tourniquet fashioned out of her brother-in-law’s belt. Within 15 to 20 minutes an ambulance arrived and medics applied a third tourniquet to help stop the blood loss.
“Once we were at the hospital one of the medics said ‘I’ve been a medic for years and don’t know I would have thought as quick as you did. I don’t know I would have been able to think to take my top off.’”
The only answer Brenner can give?
“It didn’t occur to me not to.”
Everything she’d learned in critical care during her last two semesters at SCC came into clear view, guiding her every decision. Even after her son made it to the hospital and doctors took over, her own experience as a nurse contributed to his outcome. After Peyton returned from a nearly five-hour surgery to repair the damaged artery, Brenner immediately noticed swelling in his calf and knew what was wrong.
“I had phenomenal instructors and had I not taken the courses, I wouldn’t have known he had compartment syndrome,” she said.
Compartment syndrome occurs when too much pressure is built up between muscles. It can damage muscles and nerves and lead to decreased blood flow. Peyton immediately had a second surgery and stayed in the ICU for a couple of days before being transferred to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. There it was discovered he most likely had a liver laceration from the blunt force trauma of the accident in addition to the damaged artery. Despite the many medical procedures, physical therapy and ongoing wound treatment, Brenner said Peyton has remained upbeat and positive, exceeding everyone’s expectations.
“He left the hospital in a wheelchair and within a couple of weeks he was actively using a walker,” she said. “Now he is walking. We were thinking it would take six months to a year, and he’s already walking.”
To say she is proud, and grateful, is an understatement. It will still be a long road ahead, but Peyton’s recovery is well on its way. While Brenner admits she did jump into action that day, ever humble, she attributes the incredible outcome to the grace of God and her son’s resilience.
“He’s kicking butt I tell you,” Brenner said. “It’s a miracle for sure, for those who don’t believe in a higher power, that day changed a lot of people.”
BRENNER is not only an inspiration to her son Peyton for her heroic efforts, but to anyone with a dream.
As a non-traditional student, Brenner faced challenges during nursing school, including the loss of both her grandparents who she cared for as a hospice care aide. She said graduating with her nursing degree in December and starting work as a nurse at Genesis East earlier this year has been an incredibly meaningful accomplishment – now made all the more special through the life-saving actions she was able to take to rescue her son.
“Life was rough through nursing school, but I had great support from peers and instructors. I don’t know I could have made it through with anybody else. We really were a huge family and they’ve been a large part of my success,” she said.
Find out how Eastern Iowa Community Colleges can help you achieve your dreams, whatever they may be, at eicc.edu/dream