USF alum among nurses who treated Aurora, Colo., theater shooting victims

It’s been a month since the shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, and it’s a month that University of St. Francis (USF) graduate Cassie Coleman will never forget.

Coleman was one of the nurses who treated victims from the theater at the Medical Center of Aurora on the night of the shooting and in the weeks afterward.

“Everything I learned at USF prepared me for this day, but I didn’t expect to have a day like this so soon,” said Coleman, a Morris native who graduated from USF in December 2011.

Coleman passed her licensing exam in February, moved to Colorado a month later, and started as a neuro/trauma RN at the Medical Center on April 25.

“I thank God for my education at USF,” said Coleman. “The faculty and staff are amazing. They taught us everything exactly right so I was prepared to handle something of this magnitude.”

The night of the shooting was Coleman’s first evening being “on-call” rather than working a scheduled shift. Originally, she got the call to stay home because it was a slow evening. Not even five minutes later, her charge nurse called her to come in because there was “an incident”, and was told to go straight to the emergency room.

“I normally don’t work in the ER, and I wasn’t sure what happened at first, but I was prepared to do anything,” said Coleman. “I was excited and ready for the challenge. When I arrived, it was chaos. The hospital team was calm and everyone knew what they were doing, but there were so many people hurt. The first thing that went through my head was, ‘How could I help?’”

Coleman took care of several patients that evening and then three patients for the next several weeks when she worked her scheduled shift at the hospital. She grew close to each one of them.

“I will never forget any of them, and I have a special connection to each one of them,” she said. “Their strength and faith was amazing.”

Coleman said she believes that “God has a plan for everyone” and she was meant to work at the hospital that treated the victims of the shooting. It was her high school certified nursing assistant teacher who she ran into at a Morris clothing store that first told her about the health care opportunities available for nurses in Colorado.

“When I learned about the Medical Center, I contacted them, and was fortunate enough to do a 10-day internship-like rotation there right before I graduated from USF,” said Coleman. “It was all part of the plan, which led me to be there the night of the shooting.”

A few weeks ago, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Medical Center and met with approximately 50 staff members who treated the victims of the shooting. Coleman said the First Lady expressed gratitude to everyone and thanked them for their efforts.

“When Michelle Obama asked me if I ‘felt like my education and training prepared me for such a tragedy’. I felt so grateful that I went to USF and even more grateful that I have such an amazing personal support system!,” said Coleman. “The USF nursing faculty set the standards for my nursing career high.”