A “girls’ trip” to the movies in Van Buren recently turned into a life-changing and life-saving moment for an off-duty nursing assistant and her niece.

Brandi Phifer, a certified nursing assistant in the SeniorCare Behavioral Health Unit at Sparks Regional Medical Center and her niece, Stephenie Krebbs, were recognized this week by Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman for what he called “heroic efforts.”

Phifer and Krebbs helped save the life of a man who suddenly suffered cardiac arrest in the parking lot of the Malco Van Buren Cinema. Awards to the two women and Van Buren police officer Justin Wing were presented Monday by Van Buren Police Chief Jamie Hammond at the Van Buren City Council meeting.

Phifer said she and her family heard the engine of a truck revving and noticed a man slumped over the steering wheel. While Krebbs ran for help, Phifer pulled the man from the vehicle and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until police and first responders arrived.

“We are proud of Brandi and her instincts to react quickly and appropriately in that situation,” said Crystal Lougin, director of Behavioral Health Services at Sparks. “She has great compassion for our patients and a wonderful work ethic; it’s no surprise that she was able to step up and help someone in need.”

Before coming to Sparks, Phifer worked as a preschool teacher at Bost Inc., for 13 years. She has three children and lives in Fort Smith.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States and statistics show that if more people knew CPR, more lives could be saved. To learn about “hands-only CPR” or find a training center, visit heart.org.