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Proudest Moment: Margaret M. McMahon Nu’73

Margaret McMahon, MN, APN, RN, NP-C, CEN, FAEN, is an Emergency Clinical Nurse Specialist and a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner living in Williamstown, New Jersey. During the  Vietnam War, she served with the 85th and 95th Evac Hospitals in Quin Nhon and Danang, South Vietnam. After the war, she worked in clinical and supervisory roles in Philadelphia and Seattle hospitals, taught nursing courses, and consulted. She served as the editor of Disaster Management & Response and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Emergency Nursing.

I was an Army nurse in Vietnam, working in Receiving and Emergency, 1968–69—the height of the war, when mass casualty events were the norm. I helped to save, or comfort as they died, countless soldiers and civilians, but my proudest moment came when I was a civilian emergency nurse and Emergency Clinical Nurse Specialist. I received a 14-year-old boy who had experienced a cardiac arrest while sitting in class. He had no known reason to arrest, and we coded this child for over two hours, using every modality and specialist available.

I asked his mother if she would like to come into the resuscitation room to be with her son, and she did. (This was before family presence at resuscitation was the norm.) As the resuscitation continued, she touched her son and said, “You can’t be with Amy yet.”

When resuscitation efforts were stopped, I asked the mother if she wanted to hold her son; not exactly an easy feat, since he was a teenager. She thanked me and said, “They wouldn’t let me hold Amy when she died.” As sad as that moment was, she seemed to gain solace from holding him in her arms for the last time.

I later learned that her daughter Amy had died suddenly at age nine, cause of death unknown, presumably the same as her brother. It dawned on me that perhaps there might be a genetic cardiac problem and that her remaining two children were at risk. We arranged for the other children to be evaluated, and they both had pacemakers inserted—hopefully preventing this mother from losing yet another child.

Share your proudest moment! Send an e-mail to nursingalumni@nursing.upenn.edu.