The greatest act of Deleah Pickler’s nursing career did not happen inside the hospital. One weekend in early June, Pickler’s neighbor became worried in their North Charleston neighborhood. She could not find her 3-year-old child.
News of the missing toddler spread across the subdivision’s Facebook page. Pickler, her husband and a couple dozen more adults and children spurred into action. They walked and biked the streets, searching for the child. Temperatures reached 88 degrees.
Pickler searched her garage and inside her car to no avail. But minutes later while riding her bike on the search, she heard a thumping noise coming from a parked vehicle. She threw her bike down and looked inside to discover the 3-year-old slumped over – halfway in the driver’s seat and halfway on the floor. He was unresponsive and apparently overheated.
“His skin was red. He was burning hot,” Pickler said.
The child was playing hide-and-seek with his neighborhood friends and saw the unlocked car as a safe hiding place. While waiting to be found, he’d become overheated and too weak and to escape the car. Pickler, a registered nurse at Trident Medical Center, said he was probably in the car for 15 minutes. She said his legs were kicking the floor board likely out of impulse.
Tucked in her arms, Pickler rushed the child home as she called 911. She placed him beneath a faucet running cool water across his face. Another adult helped gather frozen veggies to place on his body. They wrapped him in cold towels. His body temperature declined slowly before emergency medical services arrived about ten minutes later.
Pickler said the child became more responsive was making “clear progression” as he was transported to the hospital. Her training enabled her to render aid. But she trusts that anyone else would have done the same.
“If anyone was in that situation...you would think to cool him down,” Pickler said.
She said the only thing on her mind was she “had a job to do.”
“I was in go-mode,” she said. “I worked as an ER nurse for three years. You just tap in to this endorphin, high-functioning modality. It was not until the ambulance had taken him and I had to write a statement of the incident that I started shaking and crying uncontrollably. It all hit me then. He was being cared for and on the right path.”
The United States Coast Guard honored Pickler for her heroic actions, crediting her with saving the three-year-old’s life. Pickler’s husband, senior chief Justin Pickler, is the officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Georgetown.
“Her response that day is a testament to her vigilance and her willingness to engage when a situation required her help,” said Rear Adm. Peter Brown, commander of Coast Guard District Seven which includes the Atlantic area.
Even with more than a decade of medical experience, this was nothing like Pickler had done before.
“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my nursing career,” Pickler said. “I’ve saved lives before, but with my badge on, it’s my job. Doing it at home, it’s a completely different feeling.”
The child’s mother referred to Pickler as her son’s guardian angel.
“I did was I was supposed to do. No thanks required, really,” Pickler said. “I was happy to be there.”
Pickler urges local residents to know their neighborhoods and stay vigilant, especially in the summer months when children are prone to “mischievous activities.” She says the spread of information in her subdivision made all the difference. Pickler added that residents should take advantage basic life support training courses
As a mother of two boys, Pickler – while humbled – understands the significance of her valiant deed.
“It’s hard to imagine life going on without your child,” Pickler said. “It gives a whole new gravity to what it feels like to be a mother and protect someone else.”
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