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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Leisa Arter, a licensed practical nurse at Parkview Physician Group South Whitley, receives a life-saving commendation Tuesday by way of Skype from Richard Wiley, police chief of West Melbourne, Fla.

Right turn put nurse on path to rescuing stabbing victim

– There were thousands of decisions to be made that day, many of which Leisa Arter may not have been conscious of making.

Decisions like: What to wear? What to eat? What to do at the beach?

But the most important, the one that carried the most weight and the most impact, may have seemed at the time the most trivial and insignificant:

Right, or left?

About 4 p.m. on Jan. 11, a vacationing Arter walked out of the Florida home belonging to her brother-in-law and sister-in-law for her routine walk around the neighborhood.

Instead of walking to the left, as is usually the Fort Wayne resident’s custom, she chose to go right.

She doesn’t know why now. She was on vacation and can’t remember the reasoning behind her thought process. It was just one of those things.

But that one, tiny decision brought her face to face with a dying man bleeding from knife wounds, a man who was badly in need of help, who was begging for it from neighbors who turned their back on him.

A man whose life Leisa Arter, a licensed practical nurse at Parkview Health, saved.

‘Out of my shoes’

It’s Tuesday now, and Leisa Arter is in front of a computer.

A police chief from Florida is giving her a civilian award and calling her a hero, using Skype. Photographers are snapping pictures of her while reporters, both from Fort Wayne and Florida, pepper her with questions.

The most common: What happened?

Each time she goes through the story coolly, without any hint that she’s irritated by repeating it so many times.

Arter and her husband, John, were vacationing in West Melbourne. After a day spent at Cocoa Beach, John decided to take a nap.

Arter, wearing a sundress and flip flops, decided to take a walk through the upscale neighborhood where they were staying.

She barely made it to the sidewalk – again, going right instead of left – when she heard screaming. She dismissed it as children horsing around after getting off a school bus.

In a few steps, she spotted a man bleeding and yelling for help.

“I ran right out of my shoes,” she said, describing how she went toward the man. “I felt like it was two miles, but it was only four houses.”

By the time she had the man lie on a curb, the color was gone from his face and his lips were white. He was bleeding from his right leg above the knee.

Blood was shooting from his right arm.

An artery there had been severed.

Vacationer to nurse

Arter decided to be a nurse a long time ago, and that’s what she has been for 34 years.

So the sight of the bleeding man did not faze her.

“I went from vacation mode to nurse mode in a matter of seconds,” she said.

What did take her aback was how the people of the neighborhood responded to the man, who was running and begging for help, telling them that he was going to die.

Arter said two different people backed away from the man with their arms in the air.

Another man went inside his garage and shut his door.

“The only thing I thought afterward was disbelief in the community not helping him,” Arter said. “When you see someone like that, there’s ways to help.”

Arter tried to calm the man by getting his name and where he lived. She grabbed a bystander’s belt and made a makeshift tourniquet for the man’s arm.

She then raced back to her in-laws’ house – both who also work in the medical field – to grab some latex gloves and towels.

Then she raced back.

When a police officer arrived, Arter continued to administer first aid to the man. At some point a story behind how he came to be in the shape he was developed:

An argument with a neighbor about a basketball in a walkway escalated to a fight. A knife was pulled, and the man was stabbed.

Arter said that judging by the wounds, he could have bled out in minutes.

She continued to administer to the man while police went to find the one responsible for the stabbing, a person they ultimately found.

“This doesn’t happen very often,” West Melbourne Police Chief Richard Wiley told Arter on Tuesday.

“I was at the scene that day. I saw what you were doing firsthand,” he continued. “I was amazed at how calm you were. … If you weren’t there, it’d probably be a different outcome.”

‘True lifesaver’

Wiley presented Arter with the Civilian Life Saving Commendation from his city on Tuesday while she sat in the corporate office of Parkview Health.

“She exemplifies a true lifesaver,” Wiley said.

There never was a legal case in the stabbing – both men admitted some fault in the altercation and nobody will face charges.

The man who was stabbed underwent surgery for several hours as doctors repaired his artery. Alter has not heard from him, though the man’s wife called her sister-in-law to offer thanks.

Alter does not look at what she did the same way. To her, it was just her first nature, something she’s been trained to do and has done most of her life.

It doesn’t take her long to get into nurse mode when needed.

“I think I was more concerned and surprised by the people,” she said, referring to the neighbors who chose to ignore the man instead of help.

“I think people need to be educated,” she continued.

Arter advised that you can use almost anything to apply pressure to a bloody wound. Cloth. Plastic bags. Nearly anything.

“Take your own shirt off, if you have to,” she said.

She still doesn’t know why she decided to go the route she went to run into the man, or even why she decided to take a walk when she did.

Just one small decision, one that was made unconsciously, and she may have changed everything – for one man, at least.

And although she doesn’t consider herself a hero, her husband, who napped through the entire ordeal and sat in disbelief as she told him the story later, certainly does.

In fact, she said, he’s not shy about telling anyone – and everyone – about it.

“He’ll say, ‘She’s not only my wife, she’s a hero to me,’ ” Arter said, smiling and letting out a small chuckle. “He couldn’t tell enough people.”