Night of Heroes
Car crashes smell. Like coolant when the radiator cracks. A burnt chemical aroma from the air-bag propellant. After the crash there is a moment of silence. Extreme silence like a piercing sound in your ear. The silence can lull you into thinking things are OK. But sometimes they’re not. Not by a long shot.
Am I alive? Is anyone else alive? I can’t find them. I can’t even find myself.
You know this after you’ve been in a car crash and you will never forget it.
Nancy Arnold remembers. April 28, 2018. It was almost her last day on earth.
Fortunately it wasn’t. April 28 wasn’t Nancy’s time. She survived to tell her incredible story during St. Luke’s University Health Network’s 14th annual Night of Heroes event held Sept. 15 at SteelStacks. Nancy is one of two “patient heroes” on this night – along with Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Seth Kelly who almost died after being shot during a traffic stop on Route 33 last year. Also, more than 100 caregivers heroes were recognized during the event, who helped make the patients’ recoveries possible.
The event – which more than 800 people attended – shows just how many people it takes to respond to a serious tragedy such as a crash or shooting.
Day of disaster
Tragedy can happen fast. Nancy is traveling on Interstate 87 in Newburgh, N.Y. She’s behind the wheel and traveling with three VIPs in tow – her grandchildren. Nancy is sharp, but even sharp people take wrong turns and Nancy takes a wrong turn.
“I wanted to go south, but I went north,” she recalls. “I pulled over to a rest stop. I panicked a little bit. I had three grandchildren in the car.”
Then it happens
“I pulled out without looking I guess and a tour bus hit me on my side,” Nancy says.
Two of thee grandchildren with her don’t have a scratch. Her grandson, Charlie, has staples in his head. Otherwise he’s fine.
Rescue crews arrive and pull her out of the car. She is waiting for an ambulance.
“I seemed OK at this point but it was just so long waiting for the ambulance,” she says.
The ambulance arrives and a few minutes later Nancy arrives at the hospital.
“I get to the hospital. I remember going into the hospital. Then all of a sudden I don’t remember anything ... I was awake and doing fine and then ‘boom.’ It all went downhill.”
Nancy Arnold blacks out. Thirty-six hours later she is dying.
They take Nancy’s spleen out. Her blood pressure is 50 over 30. Her blood work is terrible. She’s in bad shape.
But sometimes bad stories have good endings.
Time for a hero
Sometimes the hands of fate are on you. Nancy’s son Steven, an RN at St. Luke’s Fountain Hill, is with Nancy and knows a doctor back home named Brian Hoey from the trauma center at St. Luke’s.
“He called him and said, ‘I need help, my mother is dying,’” Nancy says.
Dr. Hoey understands what helping people is all about. Instead of thinking too much about what needs to be done, he just gets it done.
Dr. Hoey flies in a helicopter with two paramedics up the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of New York City to help Nancy.
“The helicopter pilot should be a hero. We took off in good weather from Bethlehem in April and the first thing we hit were a couple of snow squalls,” Dr. Hoey recalls. “He is an experienced pilot and he says ‘we’ll just take the Hudson River up and follow the river.’”
The flight went well as the crew was about five minutes from the hospital when things all of sudden didn’t go so well.
“There was a problem with the helicopter,” the doctor recalls. “There’s a fuel pump that went down.”
It’s a lousy time for a busted fuel pump. But you know you’re cool when you just roll with it.
So now Dr. Hoey and the crew are over the Hudson River in a somewhat precarious situation and they roll with it. With few options and little time, the pilot decides to make an emergency landing.
“The pilot is to be commended for number one, finding an airport in a relatively quick fashion, and then landing the helicopter.”
After the incident Dr. Hoey continues his trek. Finally he arrives to pick up Nancy.
“She was pretty sick when we were up there,” he says. “They were doing their best.”
They take Nancy south to Fountain Hill and immediately take her to the operating room.
Today, Nancy recalls her situation.
“He got me, brought me back to Bethlehem. I had a collapsed lung...I had eight fractured ribs on the one side, four on the other. I had a fractured back, a fractured pelvis, a fractured neck I had a thing on the back of my head...I had a lot going on.”
“I think we got up there in the nick of time,’ adds Dr. Hoey. “...it really does speak for the maturity of our system (at St. Luke’s.)..This is a pretty incredible save.”
Dr. Brian Hoey – who’s been with St. Luke’s for 17 years as a trauma surgeon – doesn’t consider himself a hero. He considers himself a doctor; a surgeon who does his job. But to Nancy Arnold he is more than that. He is most certainly a hero.
After 17 days in the hospital and two weeks in rehabilitation, Nancy is discharged. Life is back to normal. She’s at home with her husband, Paul, and is babysitting her grandchildren.
“I’ll tell you what I got through it,” Nancy says of her ordeal. “I had somebody looking over me.”