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A time to act

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, saved a local woman’s life Feb. 3, 2017, near Kadena Air Base, Japan. As Cotton commuted home, he noticed a car accident scene and provided care to a bicyclist who had been struck during the accident. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, saved a local woman’s life Feb. 3, 2017, near Kadena Air Base, Japan. As Cotton commuted home, he noticed a car accident scene and provided care to a bicyclist who had been struck during the accident. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, shakes hands with Nirai Fire Department members Feb. 13, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Cotton and the Nirai Fire Department members worked together to save the life of a local woman Feb. 3 when she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, shakes hands with Nirai Fire Department members Feb. 13, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Cotton and the Nirai Fire Department members worked together to save the life of a local woman Feb. 3 when she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, and Nirai Fire Department members saved a local woman’s life Feb. 3, 2017, near Kadena Air Base, Japan. Partnerships with the local community are vital to strengthening cooperation, especially when life-threatening incidents occur. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. John Cotton, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, and Nirai Fire Department members saved a local woman’s life Feb. 3, 2017, near Kadena Air Base, Japan. Partnerships with the local community are vital to strengthening cooperation, especially when life-threatening incidents occur. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander was heading home one Friday night, he didn’t know it would be a night where one woman’s life would depend on his medical expertise.

Col. John Cotton was driving home Feb. 3 with his daughter when they noticed a local Okinawan national in need of help after being struck by a car while riding her bicycle.

“I pulled around the two vehicles and put my car in park, put my hazards on and ran out to render assistance,” said Cotton. “I noticed she had a significant open wound on most of her right leg and was really bleeding. After checking for a significant head injury, abdominal injury, or other extremity injury, I redirected my attention back to the extremity and I had the assistance of a local Japanese national.”

In spite of traffic rushing by and the extent of the woman’s injuries, Cotton continued to focus on the task at hand.

“We applied pressure to the right femoral area until police arrived and then ultimately the ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital for care,” said Cotton. “The only thing I could think of was reverting to my training and trying to do what I’ve been trained to do; take care of the patient. It makes me feel good because I was able to put my skills to good use.”

Without Cotton’s assistance, the woman could have passed away, according to Ryo Toyama, Nirai Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician supervisor.

“The injury was so bad, that if Colonel Cotton wasn’t there, she wouldn’t have survived,” said Toyama. “Her leg was smashed all the way through and the bloodline was cut. She’s now fine, she’s stable, in the intensive care unit and recovering. She is very happy that she was helped in that time too.”

Cotton commented helping people is in his nature and it’s the reason he pursued a career in medicine.

“I didn’t really think about it; I just saw somebody who needed help and went in to act.” said Cotton. “I feel like it’s my duty as a doctor and as a citizen of Kadena Air Base and Okinawa to help anybody who’s in need.”

Cotton said he didn’t feel like a hero, but was just doing what he hoped anybody else would do upon seeing the situation.

“I’m thankful I was able to help somebody in need at the time,” he explained. “I know we’ve had several members who’ve been commended for rendering aid to locals. To me, we are neighbors here, and doing that is just a natural extension of being a good neighbor.”

Cotton received a call from local authorities shortly after the incident, thanking him for the rescue and updating him on the status of the woman.

“It was a relief to get that call and it was nice they followed up,” said Cotton. “Often, you’re left wondering if they made it or not and it was nice to hear they were grateful. I honestly think the one thing that helped her the most was me holding her hand until help came.”