ROTC helps cadet save life

Nicole Donato, sophomore in kinesiology and second-year member of the Iowa State ROTC program, used the skills she obtained in training to save a man’s life by giving him CPR after a car accident. Realizing he wasn’t breathing, Donato gave CPR, which paramedics said saved the man’s life.

Frances Myers

When Lt. Col. Richard Smith first met Nicole Donato, he was not sure how or if she was going to make it through Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, let alone that she would use the skills she learned through ROTC to save a man’s life.

Smith first met Donato, sophomore in kinesiology and health and an Army ROTC cadet, when she was a freshman going through Operation Cyclone Strong, the annual freshman orientation program the Iowa State’s ROTC hosts every year.

Part of the orientation program is held at the Lied Recreation Center, where freshman cadets go through a physical fitness test consisting of pushups, situps and a two-mile run.

“We usually have about 50 that show up. You get this girl, does some pushups and situps, she runs her two miles and comes limping in,” Smith said. “She doesn’t even finish her first [physical training] test. Got her ankle all wrapped up. I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, this girl is not going to make it.’”

Rather than immediately giving up on Donato, Smith decided they would keep an eye on her and see if she improved at all.

He said he couldn’t have been happier with her progress as she continued to improve, get better and show what type of a leader she truly was.

On Oct. 21, 2012, Donato showed her true colors as an ROTC leader when she was involved in a car accident.

She was approximately an hour and a half of the way back to Ames from her hometown of Champlin, Minn., in her mother’s 2010 Toyota Corolla at 1 p.m. when the accident occurred. 

“Driving down I-35, I was in the left lane and this car was in the right lane, and we were just going, and I was about to pass him, actually, and his left back tire flew off, hit my windshield and it cracked,” Donato said. “So I slammed on my brakes, obviously, and he turned and I ran right into him, and we went off into the ditch, and we were between the ditch and the left lane [median].”

Donato said it took her about three to four minutes to collect her bearings. The airbags in her car had not gone off, causing her to slam her head into the steering wheel and leaving her with a concussion.

“It took me a little bit to collect myself and I got out of the car to see if [the other driver] was okay,” Donato said. “He wasn’t breathing and he wasn’t conscious or anything, so I was asking him if he was okay, and he didn’t respond. So I go and I tried to open his door to help him, and I couldn’t get it open, so I had to crawl in through the other side [and] push the door out with my feet.”

Donato said the door was smashed where her vehicle had collided with the unconscious driver’s car.

“The door opened just enough where I could pull him out,” Donato said. “This guy was a bigger dude, so trying to carry him, it probably just looked pathetic. So I got him out and laid him out on the ground and called 911 and started CPR. The dispatcher was trying to tell me to stay calm, and I was just like, ‘You try to stay calm in this situation!’”

Donato performed CPR until a police officer was able to get to the scene. The emergency personnel who assessed the scene credited Donato’s quick reaction with saving the man’s life.

Donato credited the first-aid and CPR training she received from ROTC as the reason behind her quick thinking. She also attributed her stubbornness as her reason for refusing to visit the emergency room that day.

However, her teammates and Smith eventually persuaded her when they saw how it was affecting her training for the upcoming Brigade Ranger Challenge competition on Nov. 2, 2012.

“I was on the five-person female team, so trying to not admit that I had a concussion and still doing Ranger Challenge — it was hard,” Donato said. “Throughout [training] I was throwing up on the side, and they were like, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I probably shouldn’t.’”

Smith said he had only heard a brief summary of Donato’s accident from one of her instructors and was not aware she had a concussion until she was in physical training the next day.

“This is in between Task Force Ranger Challenge and the Brigade competition,” Smith said. “So she goes to [physical therapy] and starts feeling dizzy and is lightheaded and is nauseous. So we’re like, ‘Donato, are you sick?’ We end up sending her to the doctor, and she has a severe concussion. I mean, she just has this ‘No, quit, I don’t want to get help,’ this attitude, that she wants to be the best at whatever she does. We had to wheel her back in a little bit, say ‘All right, get healthy a little bit, then you can come back and compete.’”

Donato would go on to compete in the Brigade competition two weeks later with her fellow cadets, with the all-female team placing fourth.

Since then she has remained active, Smith said, constantly working out and not letting anything get in her way, a far cry from the girl who just barely got through her freshman orientation physical fitness test.

On her most recent physical fitness test, she scored a 330 out of a maximum possible 300. Smith said the test operates on a graduated point scale so if a cadet maxes out on each event, it is possible to score above the max.

“Donato went from the beginning of her freshman year, not even passing the physical fitness test to this year, getting over the max of 300,” Smith said. “So we were very, very excited about that. We were able to contract her a three-year scholarship that was able to start last semester. [She’s] just a phenomenal girl that probably just raw leadership talent, that if not the best in her class, definitely one of the best in the program. … So this little girl at the beginning, that I thought was never going to make it, … she showed tremendous heart.”