Northwest Arkansas training instructor’s reassuring words tipped scales

Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Northwest Arkansas National Airport Expert Security Training Instructor Cherry Hooten checks a carry-on bag.  (Photo courtesy of TSA XNA)

If it hadn’t been for Cherry Hooten’s compassion and gentle persistence, who knows what might have happened?

The Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) Expert Security Training Instructor was working at her desk when she was interrupted by a custodial employee who wasn’t feeling well.

“The employee was wondering if anyone had medical training and could help because she was afraid to call an ambulance or medical personnel,” said Transportation Security Specialist-Explosives Jeff Hurley.

“I have always had a nurturing mentality, so when (the employee) asked if anyone had medical training, without hesitation, I stepped in to assess the situation,” said Hooten.

What Hooten found was a scared woman who was hyperventilating and complaining of heart palpitations – possibly a panic attack or maybe worse.

“Cherry had the employee sit and try to relax while she took her pulse and felt for a heartbeat,” said Hurley.

Northwest Arkansas National Airport Expert Security Training Instructor Cherry Hooten (Photo courtesy of TSA XNA)
Northwest Arkansas National Airport Expert Security Training Instructor Cherry Hooten (Photo courtesy of TSA XNA)

“After taking her pulse, I expressed my concern about her irregular heartbeat and suggested she seek medical assistance,” said Hooten. “She was very concerned about the cost, and I reassured her she should not worry about that right now and let the fire department assess her situation.”

In hindsight, the decision the custodial employee had to make in that moment seems like a no-brainer, but the anxiety heaped on her to choose medical care over what the cost of the care might do to her financial bottom line was real.

“Cherry advised her that she needed to think of herself and her family first,” said Hurley. “The signs she was exhibiting were outside of Cherry’s novice advice, and she could have a serious condition developing.”

Hooten’s gentle persistence was a tipping point. “I stayed with her and tried to keep her calm until the airport police and fire department responded.”

By the time first responders arrived, the employee’s heartbeat was an alarmingly high 206 beats per minute, and she was developing signs of nausea and dizziness. She was immediately transferred to a local hospital.

After a couple weeks off, the employee is back at work and grateful for Hooten’s support and advice. She has been diagnosed with a heath concern and will seek treatment in the near future.

“The employee relayed her thanks and gratitude to Cherry,” said Hurley.

If not for Hooten’s calm demeanor, persistence and sincere care, the custodial employee’s condition could have turned to a much darker side.

“The act of kindness displayed by Cherry Hooten reflects exactly the kind of person she is,” said Arkansas Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Carmen Ladson. “Her friendly and pleasant demeanor displayed in these photos is a true representation of her. Cherry went above and beyond in aiding the welfare of this employee, and I truly admire her bravery in taking action in a time of need.”

By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs