Stephanie Esterland
August 2021
Rush Cancer Center
Rush University Medical Center
United States




Despite her son yelling for her to not approach the burning car, Stephanie forged on because her nursing instincts kicked in and she did not even consider doing anything besides helping the victim.
Rush nurses have a rich history of dedication to patients within our hospital walls as well as in everyday life when we “are off the clock”. Springing into action outside of work is not new to Stephanie Esterland as she has done this numerous times, but her most recent act of kindness and bravery deserves to be recognized.

Stephanie was driving her son to work around 4:30 am on Wednesday, prior to driving herself to our Cancer Center location in Lisle. On a dark country road, she noticed some stopped cars on the side of the road and the smell of burning. Her son quickly realized that one of the stopped cars was engulfed in flames. Without hesitating, Stephanie threw her car into park and immediately ran to the scene where her son had seen a young man fall out of the burning vehicle. Despite her son yelling for her to not approach the burning car, Stephanie forged on because her nursing instincts kicked in and she did not even consider doing anything besides helping the victim.

The man was disoriented with multiple broken bones, a jammed shoulder, and was spitting blood. Within seconds of caring for this young man, Stephanie heard what she describes as fireworks popping off within the car – it was about to explode. The victim was fewer than ten feet from the burning vehicle. Another bystander stopped to assist as she and her son helped move the victim off the road to avoid him being burned from the car while they waited for rescuers to arrive. An off-duty officer arrived at the scene and checked the burning car for other passengers while Stephanie stayed with the victim to keep him awake, apply pressure to a wound, re-orient, and comfort him. When the paramedics arrived, Stephanie was able to give report to them of what had happened, and they assumed care of the victim. This part of the story is not the only portion that is remarkable.

Stephanie regained her composure, dropped her son off at work, and then reported on time at Lisle. It wasn’t until she smelled blood on her shirt that she realized that she was wearing remnants of this major car accident. She gathered up her belongings and went to buy a new shirt so that she would look professional when greeting her patients at Lisle, for whom she spends several hours per day providing lymphoma and multiple myeloma patient education. She never considered leaving work, despite all that had already happened within just a few short hours. When she returned to Lisle, she was informed that one of her most-cherished patients had presented that day and was clearly in distress.

Again, she did not hesitate and moved into action to advocate and care for this patient and assisted in arranging for her to be taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Stephanie then resumed her packed clinic day and made sure each patient was cared for to the best of her abilities until every patient had checked out. Most people would not run toward a burning car. Most people would not help a stranger bloodied from a traumatic accident like the one Stephanie encountered. Most people would not be able to compose themselves to go on to work and function at a high level. And even fewer people would have the ability to put the trauma of the day behind them and care for cancer patients as if it was an ordinary day. But no one else is Stephanie. This is not the first time that she along with her son, whom she calls her “ride or die”, have jumped into action to help someone in distress outside of work. Stephanie’s skills as a nurse navigator are largely unmatched and very hard to find. But beyond that is a nurse who is willing to risk her own safety to help a stranger in need. Acts of kindness, heroism, and bravery happen every day, and what made this one extra special is that it was a Rush nurse who jumped in and saved this patient. Stephanie is a shining star on the lymphoma team, a dedicated Rush nurse, and one we are proud to call our own within the Rush University Cancer Center.