I got that sinking feeling as we pulled into the intersection. Anyone who has ever worked in EMS knows the feeling I'm talking about. It's the one you get when you first see the scene and you immediately know that this is going to be bad...real bad.
The front of the four door sedan was untouched. The driver, a beautiful young mother and her young son, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, were fine. Well, I guess I should say that they were uninjured because they were far from fine. The right rear of the car, the area that had taken the impact of the three-quarter ton pick-up that had run the light, was crushed, and judging from the woman's anguished hysteria, I knew that there must be someone back there.
There was...it was her thirteen year old daughter. They were on their way to basketball practice. The girl was a nationally ranked youth league player, and college scouts had already discovered her. She was an excellent student, a devout Christian, and a bright and successful future seemed to be a sure thing. It wasn't. In the blink of an eye, this child's, this mother's, this entire family's future had been horribly altered.
She was alive, but barely. Just before the crash, her mother had reminded her to put on her knee brace. She had just recovered from a sports injury and was wearing one as a precaution during practices and games. She had taken her seat belt off briefly to do this and that is when the truck hit them. Seat belts have saved countless lives but in this very rare instance, not having one on saved hers. The impact threw her to the other side of the back seat, and had she been wearing her belt, she would have been secured to the right of the car and would have been crushed.
She was still breathing but had sustained a very serious head injury and was unconscious and bleeding profusely…we had to load and go. I began suctioning her airway immediately, my partner quickly stabilized her neck and spine and we took off for the trauma center. In route, it was all that I could do to keep her airway clear. Blood was pouring from her nose, mouth and ears and as it spread across the white stretcher sheet, I saw an unmistakable yellow haloing…cerebrospinal fluid. The blood was coming from her brain.
At the hospital, she was immediately taken to surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain, and later that evening I went to the ICU to check on her and found that precious child bruised, swollen and on a ventilator. She was in a deep coma and her prognosis was not good. Dozens of family members were in the waiting room engaged in deep and fervent prayer. Her mother saw me and we fell into each other’s’ arms. I don’t typically become involved in the aftermath of calls that I run. It would be logistically and emotionally impossible to follow up on patients on a regular basis, but I felt a strong connection to this family. I had a thirteen year old daughter of my own and I not only felt professionally responsible for this girl’s life, I felt maternally responsible as well.
Her mother and I formed an immediate bond. I became a regular visitor to the ICU and got to know her father and other family members as well. The waiting room was never empty, and a prayer chain of thousands had spread across the country. Weeks went by with no improvement. The doctors were giving very little hope that she would ever regain consciousness, much less have any kind of normal life, but her family never wavered in their belief that God had something else in store for this sweet child.
We soon discovered that our daughters’ birthdays were only two weeks apart. I suggested that we have a combined fourteenth birthday party for the two girls and we excitedly began planning one. When I left the hospital I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have committed to something that wasn’t likely to happen. I too was beginning to think that she would never recover, and I felt that it was irresponsible of me to suggest such a happy event that would probably never take place.
I was wrong. The family’s prayers were answered and just a few months after the accident, she went home. She had indeed regained consciousness and in a miracle that stunned even the doctors she made a complete recovery. She was unable to return to basketball, but she graduated high school and college and is a remarkable young woman today.
We did have that birthday party. I was talking about it at work and someone suggested that MEDIC sponsor it. It was held at our headquarters and there was a cake with both girls’ names and “Happy 14th!” spread across it in gooey icing. All of the people who had been thrown together in tragedy were reunited in celebration that day.
That party started a tradition at my agency. Patient reunions have become a yearly event here. A man who a suffered cardiac arrest and was resuscitated, a baby who couldn’t wait to get to the hospital to be born, and a child who would have choked to death had it not been for a paramedic are just a few of the patients who have had reunions with their rescuers. It is an uplifting event and helps us to remember why we do what we do, and it’s all because one little girl refused to give up, and one family never stopped praying.