ON BEING PREPARED
In Rochester last week, along the Erie Canal, there was a miracle.
A father was in town, a pastor from Florida, one of those guys who adopts handicapped kids from around the world. The family was in town at the Ronald McDonald House while one of the kids had another surgery at the University of Rochester.
And it was in a break in the afternoon that he strapped two of the kids in the double-wide stroller and went out for a walk.
Along the Erie Canal.
An 8-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl.
A couple of handicapped kids, out for some fresh air, strapped in the stroller.
A couple of hundred yards away, at the big round pavilion, a group of new medical students sat at a service event and mixer, their third day at the school, a couple of months out of college, new to one another and this stage of life. A couple of blocks over, at Cam’s Pizzeria, there was a call for a takeout, from some cops downtown, pizza and wings.
And the father pushed the stroller along the canal, near where it crosses the Genesee River, when something went off on his phone.
And looking at it, he couldn’t make it out, because of the glare, so he turned, so that his body would shade the phone.
Who knows how long he stood there, caught up in the distraction of the phone. But he was distracted, as he faced away, and he didn’t notice the hill, or the stroller as it began slowly to roll down the hill, across the grass, toward the canal.
Toward the canal and bouncing over its edge and pitching forward toward a face-downward splash into the water 10-feet below.
With two handicapped 8-year-olds strapped inside.
We don’t know when the father noticed the stroller. Whether he chased it down the grass, or whether the splash is what caught his attention.
But he screamed for help and leapt into the canal and grabbing the stroller he pulled it to the surface and, while shouting to passersby, tried to lift the children’s faces into the air.
There were apparently two folks who saw it happen, or heard the father’s yells. One immediately called 9-1-1, the other – a bicyclist who didn’t have a cell phone and who couldn’t swim – pedaled as quickly as he could to the nearest group of people.
That was the medical students at the pavilion.
In hurried moments of shouting and realization, a call went out, over the police radio, and a handful of medical students, young women, sprinted to the canal.
This is where the miracle came in.
Not just what was done, but who did it, and how they seemed placed perfectly where they needed to be.
Like the 23-year-old third-day medical student from nearby Pittsford. The one who was the captain of her high school’s state-championship swimming team. The athletic All-American who just finished four years on the Dartmouth swimming team.
Who worked out with the water polo team and swam 13 miles a day and had to tread water for 15 minutes with her arms in the air.
The one who was also an EMT and a lifeguard.
She was the first one down the ladder and into the water. Behind her was another student, another high-school lifeguard, and together they set out for the father, still struggling to keep the stroller above water.
As they pulled into Cam’s to pick up the office lunch, the two plain-clothes cops heard the radio transmission and set off at high speed to the water’s edge.
One was an EMT and the police academy’s CPR trainer. The other was an Army combat veteran and a member of the department’s SCUBA squad. They got their car as close as they could and ran the rest of the way.
They split up as they did, one to each of two centers of activity at the edge of the canal.
The first medical student, the girl from Pittsford, got to the stroller and judged that the little boy was most critical. She unfastened his safety straps, lifted his face out of the water and, after giving two quick rescue breaths, set out towing him at a dead sprint some 150 yards to the nearest place he could possibly be lifted from the water.
There, still some few feet below the edge, she powerfully lifted him into the air and he was grabbed by a rescuer dangling from above. A medical school dean gave him two more quick rescue breaths and turned him over to the CPR cop, who resuscitated him as ambulance and fire crews arrived.
The medical student swam back to the stroller and, working with her classmate and the father, struggled to lift the still strapped-in girl and the stroller that trapped her above the water. They lifted and swam toward the shore, where the second cop – the tall SCUBA man – leaned out and down, steading himself with a tree limb and held around the ankles by passersby, until he could grab the stroller and, with the help of arriving firemen, haul it up and over the edge.
Within moments, the children were sped to the nearby hospital where the struggle to save their lives continued in earnest.
In the come down afterward, as the rescuers and the community realized what had happened, many saw the miraculous hand of Providence. It seemed that people with unique skills and abilities – beginning with the medical student and the cop – were placed right where they were needed.
Maybe it wasn’t an accident that the service project had lunch at the pavilion, or that the cops were hungry for pizza, and a particular kind of pizza. Maybe God put who he needed where he needed them.
And maybe the unique preparations of those people, the skills and abilities they had, are a reminder to us all of the need to be useful. Of the need to be prepared. Of the need through life to acquire skills and develop talents.
That much has been obvious.
But there is a flip side of that lesson in this as well.
Because just as there is an inspiring lesson of preparedness in this incident, there is also a heart-breaking example of a lack of preparedness.
The great obstacle in this rescue was the difficulty the father and the students had in unfastening the safety belts on the stroller. Those belts slowed the rescue of the boy and almost prevented the rescue of the girl. It was the belts that held the children trapped in and below the water.
Belts which were extremely difficult to unfasten.
Belts which nobody had a knife to cut.
And that’s the other lesson. In the sorrow of this near tragedy, much difficulty was caused by the lack of a common, everyday tool.
A pocket knife.
Nobody thought they needed one that day.
And maybe you don’t think you need one today.
But they did, and maybe you might, too.
It pays to be prepared.
And that includes tools. Even tools like a lowly pocket knife.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012