"That Blonde Nurse Lady"
Susan M. Kochevar, 2014 Alumni Achievement Award winner, College of Nursing
Susie Kochevar’s (AS ’83, BS ’87) heart pounded as she slugged up the heavy sand dunes. The helicopter’s lights illuminated the nighttime scene and the rotors sprayed bits of sand across the dune hill. Kochevar’s heavy medic pack weighed her down, but she hurried up the incline to her precarious patient. The man, a firefighter, had taken an unexpectedly large jump on his ATV and upon landing his chest had hit the quad and had broken every rib. Fortunately, Kochevar, a flight nurse, was here to help. As Kochevar reached the man his friends said, “He can’t breathe. He’s doing bad.” Kochevar quickly fitted him with a chest tube and loaded her fast-fading patient into the air ambulance. As the helicopter sped towards the hospital, Kochevar feared the worst. Barely holding onto life, the man survived the flight to the better equipped trauma center. When he woke up days later, Kochevar visited him. She says, “He asked me, ‘How close was I?’ I said, ‘How close to leaving? . . . . You [were] as close as you can get without going’. It was a very empowering experience knowing on that particular flight, I made a difference and kept a dad [alive] so he could raise his kids.”
Kochevar loves the impact she can make with her job, and when Kochevar first arrived at BYU, she knew instinctively that she belonged in the nursing program. Although Kochevar knew she wanted to be a nurse, the nursing program proved very challenging. Kochevar says, “The nursing program is hard. . . . [I] gave up some of the fun social life that people [have in] their college years. . . . I just studied. I went through the summer, and I studied. I woke up at four so I could have a good four hours of study before I had to be at class at eight or nine.”
Once Kochevar graduated, she began working in the ER. As she worked, she noticed the flight nurses from the air ambulances bringing in their patients. As she observed the flight nurses’ adrenalin-filled job, Kochevar knew that was what she wanted to do. She began taking different jobs in various departments, working as an instructor, and doing everything she could to become a flight nurse—and she succeeded!
Kochevar loved the fast-paced environment, but she had mixed feelings about the job. “It [was] phenomenal,” Kochevar says. “But helicopters fall out of the sky. I was with three different programs and each program had a fatal crash. I had a big family. . . so eventually I decided to stop getting my adrenalin fix that way and ride on ambulances and fire trucks instead.”
Kochevar’s career took another surprising twist when a friend asked her to teach a course for the Special Operations Military Medics. As Kochevar taught, she realized she had a knack for teaching. “Because I’d been a flight nurse and worked in the field by myself, my skillset was very compatible with what they needed,” Kochevar explains. “I could teach it in a way that . . . the information was retrievable and easier for them to understand.”
The owner of the training company saw Kochevar’s success and hired her to design the company’s training curriculum. Kochevar trained various government groups throughout the next 10 years, including CIA and US Department of Homeland Security personnel and Navy Seals. In fact, Seal Team Six requested, “We want that blonde nurse lady to teach us!” So Kochevar did.
Even with her exciting career, Kochevar has still made time to serve. After graduating from BYU Kochevar was called on a special LDS mission to Bolivia to serve as a nurse. Kochevar taught the people important self-reliance, nutrition, and sanitation skills throughout 6 weeks of classes, and the Elders made sure to attend the meetings as well. “If [we] could get rid of the parasite, help the families afford different food . . . then the kids would start growing and they’d be healthier,” says Kochevar. “If your temporal needs are met, then sometimes it’s easier to accept and meet your spiritual needs.” The program was enormously successful—in one month Kochevar’s district had 100 baptisms.
Recently, Kochevar returned from a dental humanitarian trip to Ghana where her son served his mission. Kochevar has also volunteered with BYU’s Nursing program in Ecuador teaching hundreds of firefighters, paramedics, health volunteers, and local leaders first aid and rescue skills. Most recently, Kochevar served as part of a medical aid team for her local stake’s pioneer trek. As the trek progressed, one of the women became very sick from dehydration and heat illness. She sought out Kochevar, and Kochevar quickly responded to the woman’s dire need. Kochevar says, “She and I didn’t know each other before that moment, but we’re bonded now because she was in need, and I was able to meet it. . . . We’re bonded because we were human together.”
For Kochevar, even more rewarding than the adrenalin and excitement of nursing is the opportunity to compassionately serve those in need. “Offer your hand,” Kochevar advises. “In [my] 35 years of being a nurse, not one time have I ever offered my hand without the patient taking it and holding on tight.”