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Colleagues, family members pay tribute

Longview perioperative RN, who was killed while on duty, always put others at ease

Monday January 13, 2014
Gail Sandidge and a patient the morning of the attack.

To see more photos visit www.Nurse.com/Gallery/Sandidge-Tribute
Gail Sandidge and a patient the morning of the attack. To see more photos visit www.Nurse.com/Gallery/Sandidge-Tribute
(Photo courtesy of Chad Jackson.)
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On Nov. 26, Gail Sandidge, RN, BSN, started her shift at 5:30 a.m. as usual in the preoperative unit at Good Shepherd Medical Center’s Ambulatory Surgical Center in Longview, Texas. Just before 7 a.m., she was tending to a patient when she heard a commotion in the unit. She opened the curtain around her patient’s bed and saw a young man standing in the doorway of the unit.

“What’s going on here?” she asked the man. Within seconds the man stabbed Sandidge in the chest. “He got me. I’m hurt! Help me!” she called out grasping her chest as co-workers rushed to her aid.

These details were shared by Chad Jackson, who witnessed the incident because he was in the preoperative unit with his 6-year-old daughter at the time. After stabbing Sandidge, the man walked away saying, “You are not going to hurt my momma,” Jackson said. The young man’s mother had been scheduled for a procedure that morning, according to reports.

Within three minutes the man had stabbed five people — two nurses and three visitors. Sandidge died from her injury, and one other visitor, a man waiting to take his son home after surgery, died on Dec. 5. Karen Bobo, RN, and two visitors sustained minor injuries, according to the medical center. They were treated and released.

Meant for nursing

Although those connected to 57-year-old Sandidge are struggling to make sense of the random act of violence, many were not surprised by her willingness to put her life at risk to confront the man.

“Gail was the type of nurse who would go toward a difficult situation to help,” said Debbie Pritchett, her younger sister. “That is how she operated. She would have protected any of the nurses and patients because that was her character.”

Sandidge’s passion to pursue nursing was ignited at a very young age, Pritchett said. Their younger brother was 16 months old when he contracted measles and double pneumonia. Sandidge, who was 6 at the time, held her brother in her arms as her mother drove to the hospital, but he died several days later. “I think it left a mark on her. She wanted to help and do something for others,” Pritchett said. “She was an incredibly hard worker and very driven, and she knew what she wanted.”

She worked as a candy striper during high school, and after graduating she started nursing school at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Determined to pay for her education and graduate with her class, she worked 40 hours a week while sometimes taking as many as 18 credit hours.

She began her career as a nurse at Good Shepherd Medical Center in 1978, where she initially worked in critical care. Later she moved to the Ambulatory Surgical Center, where she worked in recovery and most recently the preoperative unit. She quickly gained a reputation as a nurse who had the willingness and knowledge to help co-workers at any time.

“If I had trouble putting in the IV, she would help,” said Trudy Johnson, RN, who worked with Sandidge in the preoperative unit. “She also was our go-to person for cardiac problems. If there were rhythms I was unsure about, she would know whether I needed to follow up with the doctor.”

Sandidge, a breast cancer survivor who had been in remission for the last 18 months, was an instructor for advanced cardiac life support and also a member of the code team. Even outside of work she was prepared to offer nursing expertise; she carried an EpiPen and CPR equipment when she traveled.

The joyful side

Although Sandidge was known for her determination, part of working hard also included a lightheartedness that put patients and peers at ease. “In one of the last pictures taken of her the day of the incident, she was being silly with a pediatric patient,” said Jill Pyle, RN, CGRN, gastroenterology preoperative pain management clinical director at Good Shepherd Ambulatory Surgical Center.

“When she put on the pulse oximeter, she told the patient to watch the monitor for the mountains they would make. She wanted to make it fun and entertaining.”

Pyle and Johnson are grappling with the loss of not only a co-worker but a close friend. “We both went through radiation for breast cancer at the same time, and we had a close bond,” Pyle said. “We would share about different pains and techniques that helped us through that time together.”

Sandidge — a wife, mother of two daughters and grandmother of two with a third on the way — also was a seamstress and Sunday school teacher. When friends or relatives needed something sewn, they turned to Sandidge, who made children’s clothes, Halloween costumes and blankets for nursing home patients, said Pritchett.

Although she lost her life in the tragic incident, her call to nursing was an example of how tragedy can be redeemed. Her brother’s death inspired her to pursue a career in caregiving, and the difference she made in hundreds of lives as a nurse — according to those who knew her — will not be easily forgotten.

To see more photos visit www.Nurse.com/Gallery/Sandidge-Tribute.


Heather Stringer is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.
First impressions

“I started to work at the [ambulatory surgical center] nine years ago in the PACU. Gail was charge nurse at that time. My first impression of Gail was that she was very helpful in getting me acclimated to the department and never hesitated to help. She was on top of any situation that occurred not only in the PACU, but throughout the facility. She had very high standards and set an example for other nurses. On a personal level, she was a good friend as well as co-worker who always put herself forward to help her friends whenever the need arose.”
— Catherine Rawlinson, PACU staff RN and charge nurse