You should never feel silly calling the police about bad drivers.
3-day-old baby survives ambulance crash, gets to Children's for treatment
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
The call came over John Knapp's CB just after 3 Saturday morning: "Somebody's going the wrong way."
Tracy and John Knapp, of Oil City, talk about the collision of a car and an ambulance carrying their infant daughter, Joanne. Tracy Knapp was riding in the ambulance, and her husband was in a car 200 feet behind when the accident occurred. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)
Alarmed, Knapp reached for his mike. He needed to know more. He was driving south on foggy Route 8 in Venango County, and he thought he had heard that the wayward driver was headed north on the same road.
Three of his children were in his back seat. His fourth, 3-day-old Joanne, was with her mother, about 200 yards ahead in an ambulance that was taking her to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. He needed to know more.
Knapp never got to confirm the call.
A car driven by John E. Bridge, 60, of Franklin, had crashed head-on into the ambulance. Bridge was killed, but everyone in the ambulance -- driver Monique Robinson; critical care nurse Kathy Plansinis; respiratory therapist Keith Paris; Knapp's wife, Tracy; and their newborn daughter -- lived.
Said Children's Hospital's director of critical care, Peggy Slota, who saw what was left of the ambulance: "I can't believe they all survived."
Joanne Dee Knapp -- named after both Tracy's mom, who died five months ago, and John's father -- is in critical but stable condition. She flew out of her isolette on impact, but Paris found her in the dark and immediately, despite his own injuries, provided the needed care.
The baby had "more doctors in the five months before she was born than most people have in a lifetime," Tracy Knapp said, but she and her husband are optimistic because they know their daughter is a fighter.
"I've got the bruises on my back to prove it," said John, 32, trying to laugh. "She really kicked when she was in her mother's womb."
Clutching her husband's hand, Tracy, 26, smiled a little through her tears.
"She took my breath away a couple of times," she said.
The incident should have been a routine one, at least as far as Children's personnel were concerned. The hospital has a transport team on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and relationships with many community hospitals within a 150-mile radius of Pittsburgh. Dr. Dick Orr, medical director of the transport team, said 1,200 patients were brought to Children's last year.
Often the transport team travels by helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft. But because of high winds and fog Saturday morning, when Northwest Regional Medical Center in Oil City called for transport, the team went via ambulance.
For the Knapps, who live in Oil City, nothing has been routine.
Joanne was born Wednesday with a hole between the ventricles of her heart, a condition called ventricular septal defect, or VSD. Doctors made an appointment for her at Children's for the next week, and although Joanne was a little jaundiced, she and her mother left the hospital Friday, two days after the birth.
After about six hours at home, however, the Knapps noticed that Joanne was having trouble breathing, and they took her to the emergency room at Northwest Regional. The doctor there said Joanne was OK.
The next day, a visiting nurse performed some tests on Joanne, and the Knapps received a call from the hospital telling them to bring her in. When doctors couldn't pinpoint the problem, they decided that Joanne should be taken to Children's earlier than planned.
They had been on the road only 15 minutes when the accident occurred. Tracy, sitting in the front seat of the ambulance, saw the headlights approaching.
"It happened almost in slow motion," she said, crying, "but fast."
The oncoming car, she said, did not appear to slow down. But even at the moment of impact, she noticed, Robinson kept her hands on the steering wheel.
Tracy opened her door. Someone in the back told her where to find a cell phone, and she dialed 911. By this time, her husband had stopped and sprinted to the crash site, and she turned the phone over to him because she couldn't give the dispatcher good directions.
She went to the family car and distracted Alexandra, 6, Jesse, 5, and Christopher, 4, by singing. Everyone learned the words to the song Alex had performed Friday in her first school play, in which she played a straw merchant in the "Three Little Pigs."
Three ambulance companies and three fire departments responded to the call, which was lucky to even get to the dispatchers. On that stretch of Route 8, cell phone coverage is spotty.
Plansinis, who was apparently hit by the isolette, is in UPMC Presbyterian with a dislocated right shoulder and multiple fractures to her right hand. Paris is home, but bruised and aching. A second transport team picked up Joanne at a hospital in Grove City, and she is in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's.
Her family is praying.
"This is like being struck by lightning," John Knapp said. "I would never wish this on anybody. Never."