Their route took them through Jasper, Texas, a small town at the crossroads of U.S. hwys 190 and 96 and Texas Hwy 63. It was at the confluence of U.S. Hwy 190 and Texas Hwy 63, on the eastern edge of town at about 5:45 p.m., that the Soileaus’ travel plans were put on hold.
“Matt and I were listening to a book on tape when he suddenly said, ‘Do we need to stop?’” Kristin Soileau said. “I could tell his voice was a little tense so I looked up.”
What Soileau saw was a truck on the side of the road with a woman lying nearby face down. A man was standing beside the woman, staring down at her. The couples’ vehicle had been struck by a large truck.
“I told Matt to stop and I jumped out and ran over to her to see if she was OK,” Soileau said.
The woman was unresponsive, Soileau said.
“She had what I thought was a very weak pulse,” she said. “She wasn’t breathing, so I told someone to call 9-1-1 and began CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation). “
When emergency medical technicians arrived with the ambulance, Soileau said she continued performing CPR while the medics loaded the woman into the ambulance.
“Once you start CPR you’re not supposed to stop until someone takes over for you,” she said. “The EMTs were busy doing other things so I continued CPR and worked to clear her airway.”
Soileau said she rode in the ambulance to the hospital while her husband followed in their car.
“I just kept doing CPR,” she said. “Once we got to the hospital, I continued CPR in the emergency room. When the doctor arrived, I continued to help in any way I could. After about 30 minutes, they pronounced her dead.”
Soileau said that when she saw the woman lying helpless on the side of the road, her military training kicked in.
“Army dentists are sent to the advanced trauma life support school at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,” she said. “In the event of a mass casualty, dentists pull triage to free up doctors for the ER. When people need help, your Army training takes over. At the end of the day, you do the best you can.”
Soileau said she never considered that she was placing her life in harm’s way by working on the side of the road near a major highway intersection.
“It probably should have crossed my mind, but once I got involved, I really didn’t notice,” she said.
Although Soileau is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, she said she had not faced a situation like this before.
“It’s had an effect on me,” she said. “I’ve looked back and replayed it over in my head. I guess, at some point, safety crossed my mind, but adrenaline takes over and you do what you have to do.”
Col. Jamie Houston, DENTAC and Kristin Soileau’s commander, said he was not surprised at her actions.
“She goes above and beyond whatever task she is given,” Houston said. “She’s only been here since September (2010) but her reputation preceded her from Fort Campbell (Ky.). Her care and compassion for mankind is overwhelming. Even though the lady died, Kristin did everything she could to help her.”
Houston said Soileau is a natural leader.
“She has leadership qualities that a lot of captains don’t have,” he said. “We are fortunate to have her here.”
Soileau said she thinks her husband was surprised to see her at work in her element.
“He told me he was impressed with how I reacted,” she said.
Her husband expounded.
“Honestly, I was floored,” he said. “I’ve been in combat situations before and you never know how you’ll react. I often wondered how Kristin would do in that type of situation. She came through with flying colors.”
Matt Soileau said he was “proud” to be Kristin Soileau’s husband.
“Watching her, I thought, ‘My wife is a doctor; she’s awesome,’” he said.
As for advice to her fellow dentists should they happen upon a similar event, Kristin Soileau said, “trust your training.”
“It’s easy to second guess yourself in the moment,” she said. “Just trust how you’ve been trained. You might not think you’d ever be in that position. I thought that maybe when I was deployed, I might have to use my training, but not on the side of the road in Texas.”