ORLANDO, Fla. — Dave Nelson, who just became an owner-operator at Werner Enterprises after working for them for about three years, saved the life of a 7-year-old girl on Feb. 10, but didn’t tell the company because they had a policy not to pull off the road with a load because someone might hijack the truck.
But Nelson wasn’t sorry about stopping to help after the girl’s mother, Pam, flagged him down on I-20 near Birmingham, Ala.
“She saw me coming and was out in the lane that I was in,” Nelson said. “Everyone else was changing lanes to avoid her instead of stopping. I felt like it was what I was supposed to do.”
The little girl, Vicki, had dilated pupils, Nelson said. “She had no oxygen to her brain.” So he gave her CPR and told her mother that she was going to be OK.
“Her mom was flipping out,” Nelson said. “I did something I don’t ever do, I promised her, I gave her my word that [Vicki] would be OK.”
He gave her CPR for about four minutes until rescue personnel arrived and they basically “pushed him” aside, but got her out of there fast, Nelson added. He returned to his route headed for Dallas.
“It was so amazing to see this big trucker hold my little girl and do CPR. He kept me calm the whole time and the kindness he showed me really kept me together,” remembered Pam. She was driving with Vicki to Texas to meet up with husband and father Air Force Capt. Ryan Carter who had been stationed in Iraq for the past three years.
Meanwhile, Carter grew worried as he waited in Texas for his wife and daughter.
“The main thing I looked forward to in coming home was my family, having my family complete,” he said. He found out hours later that his daughter was in the hospital, and doctors told him that Vicki had survived only because of Nelson’s heroic efforts.
That the truck driver intervened when others refused and saved the life of a child “was unreal,” a member of the rescue squad told Carter, who now works as a police officer in Ohio.
The Carter family contacted Werner Enterprises when they were back home near Columbus, Ohio, two days later to thank Nelson for his kindness.
Nelson has CPR training and keeps his license up to date, even though he’s known CPR since the 1980s and this was the first time he ever used it.
“I know what it’s like when somebody needs help — the difference is, I could help her,” Nelson explained to The Trucker from his home in Orlando where he was the day of the interview (April 14) caring for his wife, Ruth, who has stage 3 terminal cancer which is in remission. However she has blood clots and some other things that she is hoping to have repaired May 5 in surgery.
Nelson said he and his daughter, Tiffany, age 11, were both with her each time she had chemo treatments.
“We decided to fight this as a family,” he added. “They come first in front of work and everything else.”
Still, Nelson was glad he stopped and was able to save Vicki’s life, but kept his mouth shut rather than risk his job.
“I couldn’t afford to lose my job right now,” he said. “Werner Enterprises is great. I’m glad I chose them to drive for. I’ve stayed busy. They have worked with me a lot. Kirk Collins, the driver manager, is one of the greatest guys on the planet. He kept asking me why I didn’t tell him about saving Vicki.”
“Werner Enterprises is proud of Dave Nelson’s willingness to help others,” said Greg Werner, Werner Enterprises’ president and CEO. “His quick action and determination are very admirable and we couldn’t be more proud to have him on our team.”
Since then, the Carter and Nelson families have stayed in touch regularly. Vicki regularly texts the man she calls “Trucker Dave” and sends him pictures. Nelson has invited the Carter family to his home in Orlando to meet his wife and daughter, who will soon turn 12, and go to Disney World together. Nelson said they hope to go mid summer, maybe in July.
“Dave Nelson is the reason my baby is alive,” said Pam Carter. “He is a hero and a wonderful man whom we love and admire.”
Nelson currently has as his first priority the care of his wife who is in remission after being told in 2005 that she would not live a year. Nelson said he told the doctor to her face that it would not happen.
“We made a date that when I’m 80 [he’s 46 now, his wife is 49], on my birthday, we’ll sit on the porch swing.”
Nelson has been a truck driver for 25 years. Besides his wife and daughter, he also has a son, Dave, in Ohio.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.