Lifesaving Student Receives Dean’s Excellence Award

Tay Nelms used CPR to save classmate during winter quarter finals

July 10, 2023

For EWU student Taija “Tay” Nelms, the winter quarter calculus final she was set to take on March 23 turned out to be a whole different kind of test – one that changed both her and another classmate’s life forever.

Nelms had just sat down and was waiting with other students when she heard a shout. Someone at the end of her row had fainted, and did not appear to be breathing. Nelms immediately sprung into action, relying on the training she’d honed as a lifeguard in Spokane. She could tell that the classmate in distress, Running Start student Justus Danielli, had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. Another student reached a 9-1-1 dispatcher as Nelms took charge of the rescue effort.

“From there on I spoke with dispatch about every detail I was seeing when looking at Justus,” Nelms says. “He was not breathing, he was changing colors …dispatch told me I needed to start CPR. So I pulled Justus out from under the desk and laid him on his back and proceeded to do CPR for what I thought was 2-3 minutes but was really 10-15 minutes until the paramedics arrived and told me I could stop.”

Danielli would make a full recovery, and Nelms’ lifesaving efforts would be chronicled by local media, including the Spokesman and KHQ. In June, she was honored by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics with the Dean’s Excellence Award during a year-ending ceremony. Nelms received a standing ovation as CSTEM Dean David Bowman presented her with the inscribed plaque.

Nelms describes the award as “shocking, emotionally overwhelming. I’m honored. People recognize me everywhere I go, it gets overwhelming.”  But she notes, the weight of what she did impacted her as well.  “I think the adrenaline really saved me until a few hours later, I couldn’t eat, I was really shaky. I did have some nightmares, but they went away after a few weeks.”

The Spokane native started learning CPR when she signed up to be a lifeguard for the city of Spokane back in 2020. Her training included practicing CPR nearly every other day over two summers. “Perfection was key when it came to the possibility of having to use it one day — I never thought I would.”

And as Nelms now looks forward to her senior year, where she will earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry, she has another goal in mind as well.

“I would love to get CPR classes going at EWU, more people need to get certified. It’s extremely beneficial, you never know when you might need to use it.”