MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- For heroism in saving victims of the 2017 Amtrak train crash, Madigan Army Medical Center nurse Tanya Porter earned the International Red Cross' 2019 Florence Nightingale Medal.
As one of only two U.S. recipients of the prestigious medal, and one of 29 international recipients, Porter received the Red Cross' highest international honor for nurses for her extraordinary courage.
"Tanya tackled fear head on and accomplished more than any of us could have imagined, navigating from causality to causality, saving so many," said Lt. Col. Parker Hahn, Porter's former supervisor who nominated her for the award. "She is one of the best, always putting others before herself. I am so happy for her and this humbling honor she now is privileged to carry with her the rest of her life."
After a long overnight shift Porter was heading home on Interstate I-5 the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, when the high-speed train derailed in front of her on the highway, killing three and injuring more than 60 people. Just three vehicles back from the wreckage, Porter immediately got out of her car to start treating the victims. She found herself directly underneath a 10-ton train car that appeared to still be swaying.
"The people in the background were yelling at me to come out from over there because there was diesel fuel on the ground and the wreckage hadn't been stabilized yet and it could fall. I saw a gentleman on the ground who was quite injured … and they were telling me to come away from there and I didn't want to leave," said Porter; she also earned the Secretary of the Army Award for Valor for her actions.
She took charge of the scene and directed bystanders to move those patients to a safer site. Even after paramedics arrived, Porter continued to help triage patients; in total, she directly triaged, assessed and treated over two dozen victims at the scene of the derailment.
As Porter looks back on that day, she is filled with thankfulness.
"The first thing I think of is I need to give thanks to God, of course, because ultimately he spared my family, and he arranged for the whole situation, for everyone to be there when they were there, for the whole community to be there when they were there and able to help," said Porter.
She said she's still taking in the honor of receiving the Florence Nightingale Medal.
"I'm just beyond honored to even be considered; these are once-in-a-lifetime kinds of things and I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that I would win or earn or be considered for something like this. It's amazing," said Porter, who plans to continue to hone her expertise in nursing by pursuing a doctorate of nurse practice.
She encourages any bystander to realize that they too can help when facing a tragic event.
"Never underestimate what you can do. Six months prior I had open-heart surgery and I have a bum leg, and still I was in a situation where even I could help," said Porter.
Even those without medical training gave of themselves after the crash, from emergency kits and care, to providing compassion.
"I remember distinctly there was a woman who was a lay person, she had no medical background, and what she did was she held the hand of a man that had passed away, and the whole time, she was saying 'Tell me about your family; tell me about your wife,' and just comforting him while in his last minutes," she said. "Never underestimate what you can do; you don't have to be medically trained to help."