DHHS Employees Help Save Woman on Dix Campus

From left to right: Diana Sharp, Sue Helmke, Michelle Davis and Lori Dill.

A group of DHHS employees assisted when a woman was suffering from an overdose on the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh. From left to right: Diana Sharp, Sue Helmke, Michelle Davis and Lori Dill. Not shown are Tina Huffman and Kay Cox. 

April 27, 2018 — It was unusual for the six North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services employees to be on the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh. All work in other locations for Medicaid’s Office of Compliance and Program Integrity and were on campus for a conference on March 28. 

But the six women — Kay Cox, Michelle Davis, Lori Dill, Sue Helmke, Tina Huffman and Diana Sharp — were at the right place at the right time.
Driving back from a lunch break, they saw a woman lying on the side of Biggs Drive halfway between the railroad tracks and Meals on Wheels on Blair Drive. Two men were standing over her.

“We were practically out of the car while it was still moving,” said Dill, who along with Cox, Helmke, Huffman and Sharp, is a nurse. 

The woman was unresponsive. Her skin was a pale gray, her breathing shallow and her pupils like pinpoints. The nurses — with a combined total of 157 years of medical experience — quickly determined the woman had experienced an apparent opioid overdose.

While the five nurses attended to the woman, Davis called an ambulance. But the ambulance could not pinpoint their location on the sprawling campus. Passersby helped, but it took 10 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

“I had an extreme level of anxiety,” said Davis, who is a business analyst. “If I didn’t say the correct thing, she could die.”

Helmke, one of the nurses, instructed the men to get naloxone from Healing Transitions, a peer-driven residential treatment facility nearby on the campus.

After two doses of injectable naloxone the woman was still in distress. Then EMS arrived and gave her an inhaled version of naloxone. Within five minutes, the woman could sit up with EMS assistance and was transported to a hospital.

Once the ambulance drove away, the DHHS co-workers all held hands and said a prayer for her.

“In my mind, God knew she needed help that day and he didn’t send her one nurse, he sent her five,” said Huffman, one of the nurses.

Davis said she previously had concerns about naloxone being so readily available, but now she feels differently knowing it led to the woman’s survival.

“I will never, never feel that way again because I saw it in action,” she said. “That woman would not have made it another day. I’m so thankful the gentleman was able to get it from Healing Transitions without any problems or questions asked.”

Davis said she hopes their story encourages people to become more educated about the opioid crisis and support agencies like Healing Transitions. The team advises anyone who comes across a similar emergency to call 911 immediately — even if they think they may already have been called. 

Fighting the opioid crisis is a priority of Governor Roy Cooper’s administration and DHHS. Learn more at the DHHS Opioid Epidemic web page, including how to access naloxone if you or someone you know has a substance use disorder.

Joan Plotnick