‘Angels in disguise’
First responders honored
A Hermitage High School student who nearly died at school and the pilot of a small plane who barely survived a crash were among the attendees at a recent Henrico Fire awards ceremony honoring first responders.
Held May 10 at the Henrico Theatre, the awards ceremony recognized firefighters and EMT's involved in 18 incidents, who were chosen out of 36,000 calls for service for displaying actions above and beyond the call of duty.
Also recognized were members of the Hermitage HS staff, including principal and associate principal Omega Wilson and Diane Saunders, nurses Sandra Ruder of Hermitage HS and Catherine Brawley of Pocahontas MS, and physical education teacher Nancy Steiner, for their roles in saving the life of Kathryn Hardy.
Dead for 10 minutes
On the morning of June 7, 2011, Hardy was in a stairwell at Hermitage, heading to the school's annual awards ceremony with her sister.
"I was going to ask if I could groom with the vet class instead of going to the ceremony," recalled Hardy, whose sister is in the veterinary program at Hermitage.
But with no warning, and no prior history of heart problems, Hardy collapsed in full cardiac arrest. Lying face down on the stairway, she still had her book bag slung over her shoulder. Her fellow students reacted quickly with calls for help, as did Steiner, who went for the AED (automated external defibrillator) while the nurses performed CPR with the help of Glenn “Chip” Holder of the Henrico Police.
If not for the presence of the AED (at least one of which has been installed in every Henrico school in recent years) and the teamwork in using it, observers agree that Hardy would not have survived.
"She was shocked twice," said Kathryn's father, Antonio Hardy. "She was actually dead for ten minutes."
As Capt. James Mellon -- who arrived on the scene as Hardy was taken to the ambulance with her pulse and breathing restored – remarked following the awards ceremony, "There's no doubt the AED is what saved Kathryn's life. . . The fact they've used this AED to save one life made it worth every penny they spent."
As for Hardy, she celebrated her 20th birthday the night of the awards ceremony, and said she enjoyed the novelty of being on stage as a theater-full of well-wishers congratulated her on the occasion.
Now fully recovered and finishing up her senior year, Hardy has little memory of the incident. But she has a reminder -- the scar above her heart where a defibrillator device has been implanted -- and she does not hesitate to show it off.
"I like to freak out my friends," she said with a laugh. "Because if you press above the scar, you feel the defibrillator."
For only a brief moment, however, she sobered as she considered what might have been.
"It's really scary to think back about that," Hardy said of June 7, "and [how] if they weren't there, I could have been dead."
Among others who attended the ceremony to express gratitude to emergency personnel were 25-year-old Tony Carr and his family.
Carr was taking off from Richmond International Airport on April 11, 2011, when his twin engine aircraft lost power and crashed on the taxiway.
Richmond Airport Fire Dept. personnel arrived on the scene to find the plane completely engulfed in flames. After extinguishing most of the fire within and surrounding the plane, rescuers were able to approach and determine that Carr was still alive -- but pinned inside.
Even as residual flames still licked at the plane, rescuers went in with extrication tools and removed the pilot to begin treatment. As requested units from Henrico Fire and Henrico Volunteer Rescue Squad (HVRS) arrived, personnel pitched in to assist Carr, who had second and third degree burns over 60 percent of his body and needed advance airway treatment because of his burns and facial fractures. He had also suffered internal bleeding, a broken pelvis and six broken ribs.
Within 33 minutes of receiving the emergency call, rescuers had Carr at the door of the VCU Trauma Center.
Carr, who spent three months in the hospital and had 19 surgeries, has since married and taken up residence in Henrico. On stage with his new wife, Sharon, he was clearly emotional and did not talk long.
"I've been a pilot for 10 years," he told the audience, "and never endured anything like this."
But Carr's mother, Cindy, who had flown in from Texas to attend the ceremony and to celebrate Mother's Day with her son, took the opportunity to express her heartfelt gratitude -- once more -- to the rescue personnel who have now become part of the Carrs' extended family.
"You are all angels in disguise," she told them. "Angels who . . . kept our family whole."
When given the chance to meet her son's rescuers in the hospital, Cindy Carr recalled, she heard details about the crash that "as Tony's mother were hard to hear . . . but as a registered nurse I could appreciate the skills you used.
"You were all so welcoming to these strangers from Texas," Cindy Carr told the responders, who have developed personal relationships with the Carr family during Tony's treatments and recovery process. "This experience has opened my eyes to the compassionate side of your work."
Noting that she has framed photos of both rescue crews in the den of her Houston home, Cindy Carr said the pictures have never failed to make her smile.
"If you should ever feel down, or unappreciated, or wonder why you do what you do," she said, "[just remember that] without you, our world would be shattered.
"That is a debt that can never be repaid."
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