COE grad student, 4-H leader, saves life in deadly crash

July 9, 2018

Laurie WeldonWe have all come upon a sudden, unexpected, and often dangerous situation. That happened recently to Laurie Weldon, the 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent for Autauga and Elmore counties. She was prepared, and she wants you to be when it happens to you.

“After work one afternoon, I was driving down Highway 14 near Wetumpka and came upon a horrific automobile crash,” said Weldon, a graduate student in Adult Ed. “Smoke was pouring out from a small red SUV and I realized someone was trapped inside so I stopped and ran to the car. I was able to get in through the passenger-side door and, as I climbed over the victim to open the driver’s-side door, I saw blood. Lots of it. I realized this woman had a severed foot and was in grave danger.”

Fortunately, Weldon is a trained first-aid expert. She ripped off her belt – a very special belt as we will see – and used it as a tourniquet to staunch the gushing blood. It worked. But they were all alone, without anyone to help, for what Weldon said seemed like ages. Her problem, of course, was that she couldn’t loosen her hold on the belt, and heavy traffic was rushing by just a few feet from where they lay.

“A few minutes later an Auburn firefighter came by and stopped to help,” she said. “I told him where my first-aid kit was and he ran to get it. I then applied a second tourniquet to her leg and told her she was going to be fine. But I would not let her look down to see her foot.”

An ambulance arrived and, upon assessing the situation, the medics called LifeFlight to airlift the victim, Janelle Vest, to Baptist South in Montgomery. Meanwhile, having gotten contact information, Weldon called the Vest family. Finally, after her 40-minute ordeal, Weldon was ready to head home. But she was missing something special: her belt was on the Life Flight, too.

“That belt is very special to me,” Weldon said. “My beloved grandmother gave it to me when I was in high school, so it always makes me think of her. It has traveled with me to four countries and countless U.S. states. It has been broken and repaired. I wear it every day. It means a lot to me.”

Once she was showered, Weldon headed straight to Baptist South to visit Vest and her family, and she told them her story. A bond was formed. She went back the next day.

“First of all, I was so relieved to learn that they were able to save Janelle’s foot,” Weldon said. “She had plenty of broken bones and was in a lot of pain, but we still hugged. We have a forever friendship now and she calls me her angel. I told her I was pretty sure that angels don’t have a temper like mine but she refuses to take it any other way. And it’s been like that every time I’ve been to see her over the past few weeks. Oh. And one more thing. I got my belt back!”

Be prepared, because lives are at stake

The lesson Weldon took from all of this is the importance of being ready when disaster strikes.

“I can’t say how important that is,” Weldon said. “I had an excellent first-aid teacher, Dallas Dunlap, and I have always made a point of teaching first-aid to my 4-H students.  And along with that knowledge, it’s critical to have proper materials and equipment so you can help those who need it.”

To that end, Weldon is developing a grant application to acquire more first-aid kits to put into more cars, and is redoubling her training efforts, especially among her older, driving-age students.

“I don’t consider myself a hero, but I do consider the life of Janelle Vest to be of infinite importance,” she said. “Anything can happen to anyone at any time, and we must be prepared to help in every way we can.”

Weldon’s College of Education background certainly helped prepare her to be ready. Her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education led her to the classroom as a Spanish teacher, and then on to the Cooperative Extension Service.

“I’m now back completing my Master’s in Adult Ed with a certificate in Extension and I am inspired by the great professors I’ve had here at Auburn, especially Jim and Maria Witte and Jane Teel. I see myself growing in my career to work with adults, as well as young people. Since I am in a rural community, parents are right there alongside my students. I feel that I can be very effective sharing my research-based education with adults in my rural communities.”

After all the exhilaration, it might seem that Laurie Weldon is ready to take it easy for a while. But maybe not.

“Actually, I have decided to push on and earn my doctorate in Adult Ed, starting right away. I’m excited about where that might lead me. With Auburn in my heart and that belt on my waist, I feel ready for anything!”