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Crash

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David Blank, on his way to the drugstore, became one of the many people rushing to the scene, but he was the only one who carried fresh in his mind the lessons of advanced cardiac life support. Theresa’s internal organs were exposed. Blank slipped on a chunk of fat and almost fell. He went into automaton mode, ordering bystanders into Duane Reade for gloves while he concentrated on the ABCs he had relearned the night before: airway, breathing, circulation. After lifting Theresa’s jaw forward to open her mouth without bending her possibly injured neck, Blank leaned in close, found a pulse and felt her breath on his cheek. Good. But he needed to stanch the bleeding. Passersby rushed forward with towels procured from Austin’s Café across the street. Two police officers were already on the scene, putting on the gloves from Duane Reade. Blank directed them to use the towels to apply pressure “to basically hold her together.” A fire engine arrived. Blank asked for oxygen, a cervical collar, and IV; the engine had everything but the IV. After a couple of breaths of oxygen, Theresa began to moan. An ambulance pulled up. When Blank, the cops, and the EMTs lifted Theresa onto the gurney, her leg—attached to her body only by a small bit of flesh—was still angled down onto the sidewalk. “Better get that, too,” Blank said.

By 2:55, less than ten minutes after she had been hit, Theresa was en route to Bellevue. Blank wandered over to Carrington, who was sitting on the curb looking dazed as the EMTs tended to him. “He looked okay,” Blank says. “I mean, he didn’t look his Sunday best, but he was being handled properly.” He does not remember seeing Carrington’s female passenger.

Shaken up, no longer needed or noticed, Blank drifted away from the scene and back to his office. He washed his face and looked into the mirror. During his two-month residency rotation through the trauma unit of Kings County Hospital, he had seen people who’d been shot, stabbed, beaten, and run over. He once saw a man with the shaft of an arrow protruding from his jaw. Treating gravely injured patients in a well-equipped, fully staffed trauma center, Blank had managed with dry eyes. But this time he had been the lead doctor on a street corner, directing a staff of cops and passersby. Sure that his patient was going to die, he lowered his head and cried for her.

Meanwhile at Bellevue, Cushman, director of trauma services, was meeting Theresa for the first and, he thought, last time. He remembers the moment vividly, in part because she was conversant. “It is not common that someone comes in and is able to talk with you, and you still think they’re not going to survive,” he says. “It is very powerful, in a humbling way, to speak with that person and know in your heart that they’re not going to make it.”

At 4:15 P.M., Greg Herlinger, then a manager of Baby Bo’s Burritos, where both Theresa and Ethan worked a few shifts to help pay for recording and marketing expenses, called Ethan during his drum lesson to ask if he’d heard from his girlfriend. She hadn’t shown up for her four o’clock shift. When the lesson was over, Ethan called him back. Theresa still hadn’t turned up? No, and there had been a terrible accident on 34th and Park. Probably nothing to worry about. What were the odds that the accident involved Theresa? But Ethan had a bad feeling about it. Her route to the booking agent’s office would have taken her across Park Avenue at 34th or 35th. He hopped into a cab. Back home he saw that the press kit was gone. The television was on, as if Theresa had just stepped out for a few minutes.

Ethan began calling emergency rooms. “Do you have Theresa Sareo?” The woman who answered his second call, to Bellevue Hospital, said, “Hold on.” A police officer came on the line and asked for Ethan’s location. “She’s here—I can’t tell you any more than that—and we’re coming to get you,” he said.

If Theresa had been a few seconds later to the intersection, if Carrington had not taken that day off from work, then everything would have been different.

Bellevue was only a couple of blocks away. “I can walk,” said Ethan.

The officer was insistent. “We’re coming to get you.”

Cushman emerged from the operating room where he had stopped Theresa’s bleeding and completed the amputation. He knelt down in front of Ethan and said, “She’s stable. The worst is that she lost her entire right leg.” There was no head trauma, and her internal organs seemed to be okay. But he could make no guarantee of survival. Theresa had left nearly half of her blood on the sidewalk, blocks away.

She would remain unconscious for five days. In the meantime, she kept a busy schedule. On Wednesday, she underwent a colostomy that would not be reversed until October. Thursday her brain and her remaining leg were examined. Friday it was more major surgery, this time to inspect her internal organs and remove additional pieces of bone. Saturday she opened her eyes. Sunday she was responsive, barely, to her family and to Ethan. Monday, finally free of the respirator, she said, “I want to live.” But she did not yet comprehend the magnitude of what had happened to her. On Wednesday, Cushman broke the news, and that is when Theresa’s memory picks up again.

“You just wake up one day with one leg, you’re high on morphine, and everyone who’s ever been in your fucking life is parading by your bed telling you how ‘the angels’ saved you and everything happens for a reason.” She laughs at the diminishment of consolation. “People used to say, ‘Oh, once you start writing songs again, I can just imagine.’ Oh, can you? Can you? Because I can’t. People say the most stupid, small things because they’ve got nothing better to offer.”

After nearly a week in a coma, Theresa’s dependence on the respirator had reduced her lung capacity to the point where she lacked the breath to sing. Before her accident, she had been scheduled to perform the national anthem for the Brooklyn Cyclones on August 29, little more than two months away. After confirming with her doctors that her injuries should not prevent her from singing, Ethan suggested the Cyclones gig as a rehabilitation goal, and Theresa began working with Bellevue’s music therapist to recover her voice. Members of the hospital staff, several police officers involved with the case, and many of Theresa’s friends attended her successful performance. Cushman, now an attending trauma surgeon at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, owns a recording of it. He can’t explain exactly why Theresa survived her devastating injury. “It is an unanswerable question that gets to the mystery of life,” he says. “That’s what I appreciate when I hear her perform.”


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