Bradley Nursing Student Plays Hero, Saves Life

September 16, 2010

By Erin Henneberger

In the minds of most, heroes are big, strong burly men, outfitted in logoed tights and leotards or firefighter gear.

A college student hardly fits the stereotypical hero pattern, but Cassandra Johnson, a sophomore nursing major at Bradley, broke that mold this summer when she saved the life of a drowning boy, 11-year-old Chevy Andreatta.

Johnson was on the way home from back-to-school shopping with her mom, Kathy Watkins, when they decided to take a different route because their usual way would be crowded with school traffic.

In a quest to save time, the two actually became lifesavers.

As they travelled down Gibson Street in Knoxville, Johnson and Watkins noticed the water that was building up in a culvert on the side of the road, and they saw three young boys swimming in it.

“My mom pulled over and made them stop,” said Johnson. “Two of the boys got out of the water no problem, but one was in the middle of water and not getting out. That’s when I saw his head go under.”

 Immediately, Johnson’s Instinct to help set in, so she threw her cell phone to her mom, kicked off her flip flops and raced to the water.

“I wasn’t really thinking about it when I did it, I was just doing it,” said Johnson. “It was a lot of adrenaline. It [getting hurt] jumped through my mind, but ultimately I knew I couldn’t let the boy drown.”

Johnson entered the water, at first only up to her waist. Unable to reach the boy, she proceeded until the water reached her throat. Eventually, she had her arm around his waist, but the suction from the culvert started pulling them both under.

Her mom got out of the car and tried to pull both of them out, but the boy went limp as the suction took him out of Johnson’s arms.

“I was terrified he was dead. I thought this boy died from my arms,” she said.

After ten or fifteen seconds, he popped out on the other side of the culvert, and Watkins went to his aid. A few minutes later, he was talking.

An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter, and luckily, medics found Andreatta only suffered a few bruises.

“That’s a miracle in itself. The doctors had told him if he had been five to ten pounds heavier, he wouldn’t have made it through the culvert,” said Johnson. 

Though her tale is easily a heroic one, Johnson remains humble, believing anyone else in her shoes would react the same way.

“If he were my boy, I would want someone to do something. I couldn’t just sit there and watch this boy drown.”