Having taught CPR to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for years, Nancy Susco always wondered if the boys would remain calm enough in a crisis to actually save a life.
Susco, the director of the surgical unit at Reston Hospital, discovered seven years ago that her life-saving training had not been a waste. Tim, her then 15-year-old son, was on a Boy Scout canoeing trip down the Rappahannock River. The scouts hit a rough patch of water and Tim’s canoe flipped. He hit his head on a rock and went under.
A fellow scout, having learned CPR from Susco, saw that Tim was drowning. He snatched Susco’s son out of the river and resuscitated him, almost certainly saving his life.
“At that moment, I knew you should never underestimate the impact you have on people,” Susco said.
SAVING LIVES and helping others has always been a way of life for Susco, who has been named a recipient of the 2004 Best of Reston Awards, an annual honor for those most active in community service.
In addition to the CPR training, Susco provides her medical expertise wherever and whenever she can. In her free time, she helps out at the Herndon Free Clinic, which offers free physicals and referrals to children of low-income families in the area. Also, she volunteers once a month as an on-call sexual assault nurse examiner at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children.
For almost 20 years, Susco has provided medical attention to athletes during the Reston Triathlon. And for 15 years, she has examined student athletes at South Lakes High School, providing them with the physicals they need to play high school sports.
Last March, Susco spent a week volunteering as nurse coordinator for the World Figure Skating Championship held in Washington, D.C. and at the two-day Colon Cancer March in October.
Tom Fleeter, an orthopedic surgeon who was a 2003 Best of Reston honoree, has known Susco for years and often volunteers alongside her at the Herndon Free Clinic, at South Lakes High School and elsewhere. Fleeter said he has seen firsthand that Susco runs the surgical unit efficiently and compassionately, treating everyone with dignity.
“Whether you are a PhD or a fresh immigrant from El Salvador, you’re treated with respect,” Fleeter said.
SINCE SHE WAS six-years-old, Susco had wanted to become a nurse. When she was in high school, she worked as a nursing assistant at a home for the elderly and eventually attended nursing school in Washington, D.C.
While in nursing school, Susco volunteered at a free clinic, treating drug addicts and the homeless.
A mother of two, Susco and her family moved to Reston in 1983. Three years later, Susco began working at Reston Hospital.
These days, Susco has a reputation for being a demanding, yet loyal head of the surgical unit, said Catherine Hannon, the assistant clinical coordinator for the unit.
“Both professionally and personally, she wants us to be the best we can be and she helps us to get that way,” Hannon said.
When Hannon’s husband died suddenly in July 2002, Susco called her everyday, cooked her meals, and accompanied her when she attended a bereavement support group.
“I was so overwhelmed by the care of this hospital’s staff during that horrible time,” Hannon said. “She’s the leader of that. People watch her and follow.”
Susco’s zen-like, cool demeanor during the constant craziness of hospital work has made her renowned throughout the hospital’s staff, Hannon said.
“She has such a calm manner when interacting with everyone,” she said. “She doesn’t get herself rattled.”
Many of Susco’s colleagues at the hospital volunteer with her, providing their medical skills at events and treating the less-fortunate.
“Once one person gets hooked into it, we just have a great time doing it together and doing a service,” Susco said.
SUSCO AND her husband have tried to instill in their sons the notion that helping others is a way of life. When their sons were younger, the Suscos were youth group sponsors at Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale. During the time the Suscos volunteered there, the youth group would travel into Washington, D.C. to distribute food and clothing to the homeless.
“They would see this is a valuable service,” Susco said. “It just becomes second nature.”
Had Susco not volunteered her medical expertise to train the Boy Scouts in CPR, her son might not have survived that canoe trip down the Rappahannock. Sometimes, Susco said, you never know what can happen after giving back to the community.
“They could be providing CPR on me one day,” she said. “I want them to be prepared.”