Early on the morning of January 5, 2022, Kaitlin Rogers, BSN, RN was driving to work on route 3 when she came upon a sea of brake lights just before the Hackensack River Bridge.

A “horrible pile-up”

It was barely dawn and freezing rain was pelting her car, so it was hard for Kaitlin to see what lay ahead – a massive, multi-car accident. “I was wondering what had happened and that whatever it was, I was going to be late for my shift, when a man emerged between the cars looking completely frantic and in need of help,” said Kaitlin, a registered nurse at Hackensack University Medical Center , who immediately jumped out of the car only to slip and fall on the icy road. “The ice had to be about a half an inch thick but I got my bearings and followed him,” explained Kaitlin, who was led to dozens of mangled cars, many with passengers in need of medical assistance. “There were people with head and neck injuries, lacerations and one young man lying on the ground.”

At 25, Kaitlin has been a nurse for just under three years. She works in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit (CTICU) at Hackensack University Medical Center, caring for the needs of patients in critical condition and requiring constant monitoring. “It can be pretty intense but not necessarily to this level,” she said.

Still, Kaitlin quickly jumped into action along with another young nurse and several volunteer firemen who had emerged from their totaled cars. “They were all just in this horrible pile-up and yet they wanted to do everything they could to assist,” said Kaitlin who immediately started CPR on the young man on the ground. “For more than 45 minutes, we tried to revive him but his injuries were just too severe,” said a devastated Kaitlin who came to find out that he was hit only after getting out of his car to try and help others. “The irony of that is so heartbreaking, he was so young and selfless.”

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With all lanes of traffic closed, Kaitlin and the others worked for two hours triaging and assisting the car passengers before paramedics could arrive on the scene. “We were this random group of strangers thrown together and we did the very best we could,” said Kaitlin who inexplicably happened to dress in layers that morning. “I put on an extra sweatshirt and socks which ended up helping to keep me warm and protect me from all the broken glass and blood.”

“I couldn’t think of any place else I’d rather be or anyone else I’d rather be with than my colleagues at the hospital.”

Kaitlin Rogers, RN

When the last patient was placed safely inside an ambulance, Kaitlin didn’t go home, she continued on to work, knowing the medical center might be short-staffed due to the pandemic. “I couldn’t think of any place else I’d rather be or anyone else I’d rather be with than my colleagues at the hospital,” she said.

“When I heard about what Kaitlin did, I was not one bit surprised,” said Mark Sparta, FACHE, President and Chief Hospital Executive of Hackensack University Medical Center. “She represents the best of the best at our medical center – a true hero both inside and outside our walls.”

“Kaitlin is an amazing nurse, a caring person and I am not one bit surprised that officers who arrived on the scene identified her as the most skilled provider,” said one of those colleagues, Danielle Loftus, Administrative Supervisor in the CTICU at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Kaitlin, who is only now just starting to grasp the magnitude of the accident says she’s grateful for all the care and support she has received from co-workers, like Danielle, who suggested she seek the guidance of WeCare, a confidential, peer-to-peer support program, designed to help team members and clinicians manage any negative emotional consequences they may experience as a result of the work they do.

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“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of the young man who lost his life but I am proud to have been there and to have helped so many others.”

Daily Nurse Staff
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