How do we move forward?

My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

I was critically injured in the accident. A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. I had a long road ahead of me, physically and emotionally, yet I was grateful to be alive.

An ending can be a beginning too. I started over.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Gradually I learned to walk again. So I began counting steps. Then miles.

Over time, that journey turned a corner. It became less about my own recovery and more about resilience -- the connection we all share.

Ten years later, I still take one step at a time. Yes, there are bumps in the road, but each step means rising to new challenges, adapting to change, and moving forward with hope.

Are you on your own journey?


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


What a spring!  The month of April has taken me from the northwest corner of Pennsylvania to the southeast corner of the U.S.  (More about that later....)

I'm running a little behind with blog posts, but that doesn't mean there haven't been big steps.   Here are a few definitely worth SAVING!

Mile Marker 1642:

I finally meet Tanya.

Smack in the center of Chinatown, the Medic 1 firehouse is a bright red dot between fruit markets, tea caf├ęs, and storefronts full of jade Buddhas.  Adults and children hustle past us, their arms laden with plastic grocery bags.  I stand outside the firehouse with my parents.  Our eyes are wide; our stomachs are tense.  We are nervous and excited.

We are waiting for Tanya.

In the past 3 years, I've recounted the story of my rescue thousands of times.  How this amazing paramedic appeared like a superhero at my weakest moment.  How she knelt beside me on the blacktop where 5th Street meets Washington Avenue.  How her voice pushed through my fear and pain and loneliness.  "Get ready sweetheart," she said.  "It's gonna hurt like a you-know-what!"  (But as you can probably guess, she didn't say "you-know-what.")

Over time, this one woman, with her skill and kindness, became a bit of a legend.

After the accident, it took months to learn Tanya's name.  And when I started searching Philly's vast Fire Rescue system, it was not easy to locate her.

The way we found each other was through a strange turn of events.  Last January, my grandfather took a fall.  My parents called an ambulance.  The medics came and stabilized him for a trip to the hospital.

My parents began telling them the story of our other experience with emergency rescue.  Of a paramedic named Tanya, and how grateful they were for her care.

"We work with Tanya!" they said.  They worked the day-shift.  Tanya worked the night-shift at the same firehouse.

They reached Tanya by phone, and my mom got a chance to talk to her.  After a barrage of "thank you's" from my mom, Tanya finally got a word in edgewise.

She remembered the accident well.  "That was a long time ago," she said.   And then she asked...

"Did she lose her leg?"

At Mile 1642, I recognize Tanya immediately.  And she recognizes me too -- even though I'm wearing jeans!  We embrace like old friends, and I hand her the flowers I've brought, the most beautiful bouquet I could find.  Then we WALK together, 4 blocks to a nearby Starbucks.

"You don't know how many times I thought about you," I tell her.

"You don't know how many times I wondered what happened to you!" she answers.

Then Tanya tells us the story that I've been telling for 3 years.  From her perspective.

In 2010, she worked at a firehouse merely 3 blocks from the accident scene.  And at 7 a.m. on that Tuesday, she was just an hour from the end of her shift.

Tanya's firehouse did not contain an ambulance.  Instead, Tanya and her partner Joanne came to my rescue in a small SUV with basic medical equipment.  When they saw the extent of my injuries, they called for a transport vehicle (a.k.a. ambulance) which was sent from another firehouse 1-2 miles away.  It was Tanya's job to keep me conscious while Joanne called for back-up and issued a trauma alert at Jefferson Hospital.

As we talk, I'm amazed at the details Tanya remembers.  In Philadelphia, some medic units run 6,000-8,000 calls per year.  Yet Tanya remembers the large crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk, and how not a single person came near me.  She remembers knowing immediately that I needed intubation and surgery.  She remembers how frustrating it was to wait for the transport to arrive.  And she remembers that her most important job -- aside from controlling the bleeding -- was to keep me talking and focused on her.

But the most touching part of her story, to me at least, is that she KNEW.  Even in those earliest moments, she knew the extent of my injuries.  Long before the trauma team assessed me, long before I even arrived at the hospital, Tanya suspected I might lose my leg.  And although she had that knowledge, she somehow found the strength and skill to reassure me, physically and emotionally, during our critical minutes together.

My perspective was much different.  All I knew was that someone came to help.  And I trusted her.  And because of her, I was no longer alone.

From the moment Tanya arrived, I knew I was SAVED.

Mile Marker 1650:

One week later, Mom and I board a propeller plane just slightly larger than a Honda Pilot.  We take our assigned seats in Row 9, the last row.  It resembles the rear bench seat of a city bus.  In seat 9C, I am dead center.  My Genium stretches into the aisle.  We fly to Erie, PA.

In Erie, we're surrounded by medics like Tanya.  About 260 of them.  At the EMMCO West Emergency Medical Services Symposium, I am the final presenter, here to talk about my experience as a trauma patient.

I even meet a group of medically-minded
middle and high school students
(Future EMS!)
Before my turn comes, Mom and I wander through the exhibit hall.  We meet hospital staff and rescue dogs.  We peruse firefighter equipment.  We learn Hands-Only CPR.  We see signs for workshops on decontamination, respiratory distress, and blast injuries.

At one of the tables, a man asks me if I'm an EMT.  I laugh at the idea that I could do anything as remotely significant.

"No," I say.  "I'm a former patient."

"You're a SAVE," he tells me.

I like it.

When we gather for the final presentations, the seats are packed with firefighters and officers, nurses and dispatchers, EMTs and paramedics.  Rescuers of all kinds.  I'm struck by the number of selfless, supportive, and skilled professionals all in one room.

We hear about Pennsylvania's EMS System from a legislative perspective.  "Hope is not a strategy," says  Richard Gibbons, PA's Director of EMS.  He says that readiness and collaboration are essential to patient survival.  It brings to mind Tanya's story about my own rescue.

Edmund Hassan, Deputy Superintendent for Boston EMS, speaks next.  He describes the complex preparation necessary for events such as the Boston Marathon.  He tells us how, in the moments of last year's bombing, the EMS workers had to transform from being victims themselves to being first responders.   He talks about how police and security had to run past the injured in order to neutralize the threat, and how bystanders stepped in to assist the victims.  He talks about triage and tourniquets and transport.

I am so transfixed by his presentation, I forget to be nervous for mine.  I'm surprised when the AV guy taps me on the shoulder and asks for my PowerPoint.

Ed is a tough act to follow!

Finally, I get up on the podium.   I tell everyone about my EMS experience.  I tell them about 5th and Washington, and my rescue, and of course, about Tanya.  I tell them how my world was shattered, but that because of her, I wasn't alone.

Emergency medics perform like an on-the-spot trauma team.  They do the job of doctors, nurses, technicians, social workers, clergy, and transport.  And they do it all at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue.

No matter how far I travel, I will always be connected to the people who were there for me at the very beginning.  It's impossible to express how thankful I am for the care I received in those very first moments.  But I can say this:

I am honored, proud, and very, very fortunate to be a SAVE.