But that’s not how Yen Cao was raised. Her parents
her father, a jeweler, and her mother, a homemaker
had always stressed service to others. So, without hesitation, Yen pulled over to see if she could help.
“The driver was unresponsive and had no pulse” Yen recalled. “She was still buckled in her seatbelt.” That’s when Yen, all five feet, four inches of her, got down on her hands and knees and, along with four other good Samaritans, carefully moved the woman out from the overturned vehicle.
With cars inching by and no sign of an ambulance yet, Dr. Cao started CPR, doing chest compressions in the street for about two minutes. Eventually a pulse returned, but soon became faint again.
Kneeling over the woman, Yen noticed her hair. “I remember she had beautiful long braids... that, and she was quite tall.”
Yen helped the ambulance crew assess the patient before paramedics eventually shocked her heart back into rhythm. The patient was now stable for the ride to the hospital.
As the ambulance pulled away, Yen realized she never learned the woman’s name or where they were taking her. In the days that followed, she wondered about her recovery.
Exactly one week later at UMC, a tall woman on crutches walked into the same elevator as Dr. Cao. Yen couldn’t help but notice her beautiful braids. “Could that be her?” she thought. Unfailingly polite, Yen decided not to say anything, but later that day, Yen went looking, and found her.
“She started crying and we hugged,” Yen said. “It was a wonderful moment. She said she’d been looking for me, wondering who had been nice enough to stop.” They sat and talked for a while, holding hands the entire time. “She was very thankful, so grateful, and I was pleased there appeared to be no permanent damage.”
It turns out, she was being discharged later that day.
The woman told Yen she blacked out while driving. If Yen hadn’t stopped and initiated CPR, there’s a chance she could have suffered brain damage or died.
The brief reunion touched Yen’s heart. But to her, what she did was no big deal. “It’s a very good feeling to know I assisted someone, but I was not the only person who helped that day.”
Yen’s heroic actions might have gone unrecognized if it weren’t for fellow resident, Dr. Caleb Murphy, reaching out to the Internal Medicine Residency Director Dr. Sandhya Wahi-Gururaj, who alerted the UNLV School of Medicine Communications Department.
Dr. Cao and the patient were scheduled to be interviewed by a local TV station until the patient decided she did not want to appear on camera.
That’s when Internal Medicine Chair Dr. Buddhadeb Dawn suggested recognizing Dr. Cao in some other way.
After giving it some thought, school of medicine leadership created the “Above and Beyond Award.” In the future it will be presented to any school of medicine or UNLV Medicine employee for acts of courage or selfless service.
Founding Dean Barbara Atkinson and Dr. Dawn presented the award and a $100 check to Dr. Cao October 30, 2018 in front of several dozen internal medicine physicians.
“Dr. Cao’s bravery and her willingness to go out of her way to help a person in distress is a perfect example of what we want from our doctors,” said Dean Atkinson. “I’m happy to present Dr. Yen Cao with the very first Above and Beyond Award.”
“It was a visceral decision” Dr. Cao told her colleagues who clamored for a “speech.”
“It was something I think any one of us would do if placed in a similar situation. I want to help people. That’s why I became a doctor.”