Marjorie's Story: Lebanon Firefighters and Patient Experiencing Stroke Survive Ambulance Crash

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Lebanon firefighters Emily Reynolds and Jesse McPherson both describe firefighting “as the best job in the world.”

“You get to help people when they are at their worst,” Reynolds explains.

And that’s exactly what they were doing early in the morning of Feb. 9. 2018. McPherson and Reynolds were focused on their mission — transporting stroke patient Marjorie Bottorff safely to Atrium Medical Center — when the driver of a pickup truck swerved in front of the medic unit, flipping the ambulance on its side and injuring both firefighters and patient.

“It was surreal,” recalls Marjorie’s husband, Dale Bottorff, who was in the passenger seat next to Reynolds. He was uninjured. “It was a double whammy – a stroke and an ambulance wreck. When I woke up that morning, Margie was lying on the couch strangely. My son and I immediately knew it was a stroke because of her drooping face.”

The medic unit was heading toward Middletown around 7:45 a.m. on State Route 122 in Clearcreek Township, lights and sirens flashing. A driver in the opposite lane slammed on his brakes; the driver of the pickup truck behind him swerved in response, hitting the ambulance head on.

Reynolds’ screams alerted McPherson, who was simultaneously calling in a stroke alert to AMC and performing an EKG on the patient. His head struck the counter, cleaving a jagged gash on his forehead.

Reynolds suffered contusions to her right knee and a right ankle fracture when the dashboard slammed into her knee. Her left leg was trapped under the steering wheel as diesel fuel leaked from the engine compartment into the cab. “We were very concerned that everything was going to catch on fire,” she says.

The firefighters’ training kicked in, and their first thought was for their patient – and for each other. “The fire service is a brotherhood and sisterhood,” Reynolds says. “Every Lebanon unit responded.”

Despite his own severe injuries, McPherson rushed to help, grabbing a towel to staunch the bleeding from his head wound. “My neck hurt badly and I was bleeding from my head, so I could barely see,” he recalls. “It was until all the emergency units showed up that I quit paying attention and let everyone else do the thinking.”

Lebanon police officer Steve Brummett freed Reynolds from the cab and assisted other officers in rescuing Marjorie Bottorff from the back of the ambulance. When she arrived at the emergency trauma center (ETC), Ralph Talkers, MD, faced a dilemma. “We were looking at the situation with two different lenses – trauma patient and stroke patient,” recalls Talkers, who is assistant medical director for Atrium.

When it was determined Bottorff didn’t need surgery for her neck and spinal injuries, Talkers says, “We changed gears from the trauma surgical standpoint to a medical standpoint, with evidence of an underlying large clot in the patient’s brain.” Bottorff was transported by CareFlight Air and Mobile Services to Miami Valley Hospital, where she underwent an embolectomy.

McPherson sustained multiple injuries, including a severe spine fracture and a broken nose. He immediately underwent surgery to repair the massive scalp laceration; the scar today is barely noticeable.

“The action of this team worked exceptionally well, providing definitive medical care and trauma care,” Talkers says. “It’s very gratifying to help people like that. That’s what we train for.”

It has been a long road to recovery for all of the survivors. Although strangers at the time of the accident, McPherson and Reynolds have formed a close bond with Marjorie and Dale Bottorff, who are thankful to Miami Valley Hospital for the tremendous strides she has made in recovering from her stroke and the accident. “She is getting more and more speech all the time,” Dale says. “Her time at Miami Valley Hospital was amazing. We never thought she would get this far.”

McPherson’s worst fear was that he couldn’t return to the only job he had ever wanted. Surgery to fuse his cervical vertebrae could have ended his firefighting career, so he chose intensive rehabilitation instead. He wore a neck brace for three months and worked out intensively every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 “I had this great fear that I couldn’t pursue my hobbies and interests in the outdoors.” McPherson says. “It took a lot of prayer for me to recover as well as I did and as quickly as I did.”

He credits his neck specialist, Max Berdichevsky, MD, for his return to firefighting. “His calm understanding of the situation gave me a lot of confidence I could return to work,” McPherson says.

Reynolds also did three months of physical therapy for her knee and ankle injuries, and she still suffers from vision loss and a ringing in her ears. It would be eight months before the firefighters were cleared to return to full duty.

And they couldn’t be more thankful to the Atrium staff who made it possible.

“I am so happy to be back with my co-workers again; there is a real family atmosphere here,” Reynolds says. “I love everything about my work. I love knowing that I make a difference.”

“There aren’t too many firefighters who come back after breaking their necks,” McPherson says. “It’s a miracle it turned out as well as it did, for as bad as the accident was. We have all rebounded very well. We are all still here.”

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