Mercy NWA Nurse Helps Save Shark Attack Victim During Beach Vacation

June 17, 2024

While on vacation the first week in June, Ashley Phillips, an emergency department nurse at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, found herself in the middle of a life-changing situation. After swimming and snorkeling with her family for a few hours on the last day of their beach vacation, she heard screams and splashing sounds coming from a different area of the beach.

Mercy NWA Nurse Ashley Phillips Mercy Northwest Arkansas Nurse Ashley Phillips

“At first, I thought it was just kids playing, but to my horror, I noticed a darkened area growing around the splashing,” Phillips said. “Something was definitely wrong. I told my son we needed to get out of the water and yelled to my sister to do the same. I just knew someone was hurt.

 “As an emergency department nurse, I'm no stranger to witnessing tragedy. Swiping your badge at the time clock means you can expect anything to happen. But when you're on vacation, it's time to take the cape off and let your cortisol levels come down—at least, that's what I thought.”

When Phillips got to the shore, she saw a woman being pulled out of the water. She ran to assist.

“I tried to assess the situation,” Phillips said. “Towels covered her pelvic region and left arm. She was pale but responsive, while her traumatized children cried behind me.”

Phillips said she was surprised to learn that the two people applying pressure to the victim’s pelvic region and left arm were in health care, too. As they all worked to save the woman, Phillips attempted to comfort her the best she could in the situation.

“They confirmed it was a shark attack and outlined her injuries: her left hand was gone, and there was massive trauma to her lower half,” Phillips said. “Together, we all tried to control the bleeding with no medical supplies. We used a T-shirt to wrap her left upper arm as a makeshift tourniquet and applied pressure.”

It took nearly 30 minutes for emergency responders to arrive, and it was a tough situation to get the injured woman off the beach and to the emergency medical helicopter that was waiting.

“I witnessed one of the bravest women I have ever seen,” Phillips said. “She knew her children were watching and experiencing extraordinary trauma. Considering the amount of blood loss she endured, it’s unexplainable how she remained lucid throughout the entire rescue.

“Her family had so much fear in their eyes. My sister was with me, and we all prayed over and over again.”

After she was safely placed in the ambulance, Phillips felt a brief sense of relief knowing she would get the next level of care she needed.

Mercy NWA nurse Ashley Phillips on vacation with her family Ashley Phillips on vacation with her family.

“We were all still worried about the outcome for her and the injuries she sustained,” Phillips said. “I looked around and felt an immediate sense of connection, knowing I was among true heroes, just like the ones I work with daily."  

After a long, sleepless night, Ashley and her family got the update that the injured woman was in stable condition, and they thanked God for helping her survive the night.

"God showed me he was with us and through our hands, minds and spirits he performed a miracle," Phillips said.