NMMC-West Point staff remembers Spruiell

NMMC-West Point staff gathered at the hospital’s helipad for a candlelight vigil to honor Jim Spruiell, the chief flight nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, who was killed in a helicopter crash in east Arkansas on Sunday

Local first responders, community members and staff of North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point gathered at the hospital’s helipad on Tuesday night to hold a candlelight vigil for a fallen comrade and mentor.

Jim Spruiell, the chief flight nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, was killed in a helicopter crash in east Arkansas on Sunday. The crash, which happened roughly 60 miles southeast of Little Rock, also claimed two other lives.

To honor Spruiell, a ladder truck from the West Point Fire Department used its ladder to unfurl a large American flag, which hung in the background behind the hospital helicopter during the vigil.

In addition to the vigil held at NMMC-West Point, similar vigils were held at NMMC-Eupora, NMMC-Tupelo, NMMC-Iuka, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, BMH-Calhoun City and BMH-Oxford.

Spruiell was a veteran of the trade and colleagues and friends say he had just as big an impact as an educator as he did saving lives.

NMMC flight nurse Javier Tiscareno was recruited by Spruiell a couple of years ago and said his mentor was always there to provide encouragement and knowledge.

“We could go anywhere, like the most obscure backwood area, and somebody would know who Jim Spruiell was. That’s how it was,” Tiscareno said. “Everyone had a story of how he saved someone, or a family member. We took his lead as far as a target for who to be like.”

NMMC flight paramedic Drew Steele knew Spruiell for roughly a year, but it was Spruiell who hired him, put him through orientation and was right beside him during his first flights.

“He always challenged me to be better and you could always guarantee if you had a real good flight, it didn’t matter when, that next morning he was calling you,” Steele said. “He wanted to be there with you and live it with you. He loved every one of us and would do anything for us.”

While Spruiell made a lasting impact on the younger generation he helped teach, he also had a deep impact on scores of people who knew him for decades.

Regina Towery, infection control and employee health nurse at NMMC-West Point, knew Spruiell for nearly three decades and said when she first met him she thought he was a physician because of his vast knowledge and expertise.

“I just admired him and I admired how he cared for the patients,” Towery said. “I admired how he respected his coworkers and then I got to know him and I decided I wanted to teach trauma with him, and he’s the one that gave me the fire and love for teaching.”

Towery fought back tears as she spoke about Spruiell at the vigil and said his positive and caring nature will live on through all of the people he impacted.

“I never saw a time where he gave up, whether it was taking care of a patient or teaching a class, no matter if something was going on bad, he never gave up,” Towery said.

Another longtime colleague of Spruill, Mike Shinn, works as supervisor for the North Mississippi Ground Ambulance Service in Clay County. Shinn knew Spruiell for more than a decade and called him the “best caregiver” he has ever known.

“I met Jim when I was in EMT school and the entire time I’ve known him, he’s been nothing but a teacher, a mentor, an educator and the most humble man I know,” Shinn said. “He was quick to give credit to everybody but himself.”

When asked what he would take away from his time with Spruiell to pass on to future generations, Shinn commented “There was so much.”

“Shear patient care to do everything you can in not only treating your patient’s physical illnesses, but treating their fears and concerns and their family’s,” Shinn said. “I do not know how many times I handed a patient off to Jim in an aircraft or an ambulance and Jim took the time to stop the family to pray with the patient, pray with the family to ease their minds. That in itself is Jim Spruiell.”