Hard working. Compassionate. Empathetic. Reliable.
Those are just some of the words used to describe nurses. As National Nurses Week wraps up, the Travis Mills Foundation wants to tell the story of a very special nurse, Judy Nuber. Judy is not only an avid volunteer, but she helped save the life of organization Founder U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills when he was injured in Afghanistan in 2012.
Judy became a nurse in 1990 and while it was a fulfilling career, she was raising six children, living paycheck-to-paycheck and was disheartened that there seemed to be zero chance of saving money for her retirement. In 1998 her oldest daughter had just graduated high school and was going Active Duty in the Navy. At the age of 39, Judy took a leap that would change her life forever: She joined the Navy Reserves.
For nine years she served with her associate degree in nursing as a Navy Corpsman, a position that provided medical care to Navy personnel. She had the opportunity to travel the world during her service, and enjoyed every second of it.
“I had a wonderful career in the Navy,” she said, adding that of the many highlights, she’s especially proud of are achieving the status of First Class Petty Officer, becoming a flight deck qualified Corpsman while serving on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and obtaining her commission as a Combat Trauma Nurse in the Navy Nurse Corp.
However, she couldn’t serve as a nurse in the Navy without a Bachelor’s Degree; for the first nine years she possessed an Associate’s Degree in nursing.
In 2005 she decided to go back to school to earn her Bachelor’s and prepared to deploy.
It was Dec. 30, 2012, when she left for Afghanistan for the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar. She was there for 10 months.
“We took care of everyone,” she said. “We took care of NATO troops, Afghan civilians – men, women and children – Taliban, civilian contractors; we were very busy.”
At the time of her deployment there were four trauma teams who worked 24-hour shifts.
“We had to train more people when we got there,” Judy said. “It wasn’t enough.”
The teams were supposed to be on for one full day and off for three.
“We were never, ever off for three,” she added. “We were called back to the hospital all the time. Sometimes while we were headed back to our barracks after putting in a 24-hour shift we were called back for multiple casualties.”
Judy saw injuries from war that she describes as “heinous.”
One of the worst injuries she saw, and one that most affected Judy, was Travis’s.
Among the chaos of treating severely injured men and women, Travis’s situation was incredibly impactful to Judy: “He was so young and I knew he was going to be a quadruple amputee. I fought with God over him.”
Judy said when Travis arrived at the hospital he wasn’t unconscious, but he was in shock.
“Most of the guys who came in weren’t yelling or screaming – they were very quiet,” she said. “If they could answer questions, they did. Most of them were more concerned about their squad than themselves. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Judy doesn’t remember exactly how long it took her and the team to stabilize Travis; she does remember that he required many blood transfusions – as did a lot of injured soldiers.
The medical team used a Belmont Rapid Infuser to give life-saving blood back to critically injured patients.
“There were always one or two nurses strictly assigned to that machine,” she added. “We could infuse a whole unit of blood in 19 seconds.”
“In our country, we use a lot of normal saline as a volume expander,” she said. “When someone has a traumatic injury, what they need is oxygen carrying blood. We resuscitated with blood products not saline.”
As Judy worked on Travis, thoughts entered her head that she couldn’t help thinking: “Why are we doing this? Why can’t we just let this young man die with some dignity?”
“I honestly thought that there was no way this boy was going to survive his injuries. No way.”
Judy, however, put herself in the position of his mother.
“If he were my son, I would want to say goodbye to him while he was still alive. My job was to get him to Germany alive,” she said.
She didn’t know if Travis lived or died.
“If I had only had a crystal ball,” Judy said. “Shame on me.”
Judy served for 20 years in the Navy until she retired in February 2019. In November of 2018 while working as a travel nurse, she received a text from a friend asking if she’d like to house sit for a relative in Maine. She had time off before her next assignment and decided she would love to help out. She attended college at the University of Maine in Orono and was happy to go back to Maine.
“I came to Maine and met the person whose house I’d be watching. We had just a few hours to exchange information. She learned my history and said I should visit the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat,” Judy added. “I stopped in my tracks. I asked her if the retreat was in memory of Travis and she laughed and said, “’Oh God, no.’”
Seven years after Travis’s injury, Judy found out that he had not only lived, but he was giving back to fellow veterans.
Judy says she “beat feet” to talk to the Foundation’s volunteer coordinator. That was it: “I may be retired from the Navy but I just wasn’t done yet. I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Judy says there have been many, many “God moments” in her journey to the Travis Mills Foundation.
By June 1, 2019, Judy had moved to Maine, and on June 6, she had organized a special get together.
Judy rallied her trauma team to come to Maine to reunite and to meet Travis. They came from Australia, Belgium, North Carolina and Las Vegas. It was also the weekend of the Travis Mills Foundation Plane Pull.
“It was incredible. There were many tears and hugs,” Judy said. “It was a really nice reunion.”
Living so close to the Retreat, Judy says, was meant to be.
“I knew when I found a house one tenth of a mile from the Retreat that it was going to have a purpose,” she said, “but I didn’t yet know what that purpose was going to be.”
As it turns out, there are a number of folks who come to the Retreat who either volunteer or work there who have needed a place to stay.
“They’ve got a home right down the street,” she said.
Annually Judy volunteers hundreds of hours at the Retreat. She recently recognized her 32nd year serving as a nurse, most recently working per diem at a local hospital.
Yet another “God moment” happened just recently when the Foundation’s COO asked Judy if she’d be interested in a paid position at the Retreat – waterfront supervisor.
Judy excitedly accepted the position and is eager for this new challenge.
Judy is convinced that her life’s purpose most definitely involves continued service at the Travis Mills Foundation. In fact, she gets up every day with an eagerness that God will, as He always has done, will lead her where she needs to go.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth.