Connecting through tragedy

A field of tall grass. A tree. An indescribably peaceful feeling. A bright light flashed in the sky. Suddenly, an EMT is holding his head, shouting his name. Spinning red strobes. Rough asphalt cradled him in an unforgiving embrace. Blood. His connection to life tenuous, he slipped back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness.
Andrew Corbin decided to check out Union College’s nursing program when his brother shared how much he had loved being a part of Union’s Master of Physician’s Assistant Studies degree program. After two years of attending a large, impersonal university, Corbin was immediately impressed with the personal connections that Union instructors made with their students. 
“Before, I felt more like a number [and] not necessarily a person,” he said. In contrast, Union faculty made him feel seen and respected as an individual when he visited. “For me this was extremely comforting ... I knew Union College was my choice in colleges for my nursing degree.”
Corbin began classes in fall 2011. One year later on September 11, 2012, as he was driving away from the Nebraska Heart Institute and Heart Hospital, a failure to yield led to a head-on collision with another car traveling 60 mph. In the space of a heartbeat, Corbin’s life suddenly hung in the balance.
“Upon impact I do not remember what occurred. I was completely unconscious if not gone from this earth ...” he recalled. What followed would be a surreal blur between a peace-drenched out-of-body reality where he sat by a tree in a field of tall grass, and a blood-drenched in-body reality where he was lying on the side of the road instructing the EMT to squeeze his gushing head even tighter.
Suffering from cuts to his face, a serious laceration to the back of his head from which he lost over a liter of blood, a torn meniscus, and a broken spinous process from his T1 vertebrae, Corbin could not recall his own name when asked.
But incredibly, despite never having been in a car accident or crisis before and repeatedly losing consciousness, Corbin’s training from Union College kicked in. He continued to calmly state nursing interventions whenever he regained consciousness, both to the EMTs and later to his emergency room nurse.
“The most emotional part in the whole situation was when, at the hospital I realized what had happened and I was afraid I had hurt someone,” he said. He was extremely relieved to discover that the other driver had escaped the crash without a scratch.
Once his condition stabilized, he quickly realized just how meaningful it was to have a strong, supportive connection with his nursing instructors. It meant a great deal to have Jackie Halley, his clinical instructor, and Theresa Stimson, director and chair of the Division of Nursing visit him in the hospital. “So many staff at Union College went above and beyond to help me emotionally, physically and personally,” he said. “All of them played a huge role in my recovery.”
Corbin remains especially grateful to Nicole Orian, assistant professor of nursing, who provided continual support throughout each step of his recuperation; including his stay in the hospital, the process of reorienting his memory with a speech pathologist, his physical therapy, and his return to classes while still on crutches.
“Nicole lives on the opposite side of town and she dropped off all the class notes for me.” he said. “Once I was able to attend Union again, I was on crutches and she would carry my books for me. She had students help me out. She always opened the door for me.” Her dedication in helping him and his family throughout this critical time has had a profound effect on him. “I have never, ever seen such a loving and caring person in my life,” he said.
Now more than a year after the accident, Corbin takes nothing for granted. “I do still have neck and knee pain as well as no feeling in the back of my head, but honestly having another chance at life is worth any amount of pain and suffering,” he said.
This experience has strengthened his relationship with God, reaffirmed his desire to live each day to the fullest, and taught him the kind of nurse he wants to be. Throughout his hospital stay he experienced both the good and bad in nursing care. This firsthand knowledge confirmed to him the incredible impact a nurse can have on a patient’s recovery.
In 2014 Corbin will graduate. In a full circle kind of synchronicity, he plans to return to Nebraska Heart Institute and Heart Hospital to work as a nurse. “I want to help others through their recovery both physically and emotionally like I was helped,” he says. “After two years of intensive care unit experience, I plan on moving forward to graduate school and becoming a certified nurse anesthetist.”
Today, Corbin is just thankful to be alive and for the strong connections that enabled him to recuperate after the crash while still keeping up with his class work. “It’s not your typical college that you attend; it’s more like a family who wants to see you succeed,” he said. “I have never seen teachers go more out of their way for you than at Union College.”