Fla. crash survivors reunite with paramedics, firefighters who saved them

Survivors from three separate crashes gathered on National Trauma Survivors Day to thank their rescuers in person


Dan Scanlan
The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Ian Brasfield didn't recognize Lt. Sharon Pickering when she walked into the Memorial Hospital Jacksonville room Wednesday.

He was "blind at the time" when the paramedic rolled up minutes after his motorcycle slid in the rain on Feb. 28, 2019, then two cars ran over him, he said.

Motorcycle crash survivor Ian Brasfield hugs Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Lt. Sharon Pickering, one of the first responders who saved his life in February 2019. Three crash survivors reunited with Jacksonville and Putnam County paramedics and firefighters at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville on Wednesday.
Motorcycle crash survivor Ian Brasfield hugs Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Lt. Sharon Pickering, one of the first responders who saved his life in February 2019. Three crash survivors reunited with Jacksonville and Putnam County paramedics and firefighters at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville on Wednesday. (Photo/Dan Scanlan, Florida Times-Union)

But he said he remembered her voice as he lay injured on the ground injured, then she helped lift him into Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Unit No. 59 for transport to Memorial. They never met again until Wednesday at Memorial Hospital's National Trauma Survivors Day.

They hugged as he told he doesn't remember anything of that night "until you guys picked me up."

"She was the one who recognized me [Wednesday] and immediately came over and hugged me," Brasfield said, then choked up a bit at their reunion. "... The flow of emotions that came out, I can't put it into words. She gave me another chance."

For Pickering, it is rare to see those they have helped after recovery. But she said she never forgot Brasfield.

"It's so overwhelming because I have been on the job close to 25 years, and this is the first survivor function myself or my partner has been to, so it is very rewarding," Pickering said. "I carried his report around for the longest time until it was almost fading away because he touched me."

"It's awesome, and it's nice for them to hold this event," added Lt. Pat Copeman, working with Pickering that day. "It's an honor. Just to see him from the way he was laying in the road until now is amazing."

Brasfield was one of three former trauma center patients reunited at the event with the men and women who rescued them after terrible crashes in Duval and Putnam counties. They were also reunited with the doctors and nurses who cared for them in Memorial's emergency room and trauma center as well as months of recovery and rehabilitation.

Along with being National Trauma Survivors Day, it is also the 46th annual National Emergency Medical Services Week.

General trauma surgeon Michael Samatowka told them he and his team saw them "on a very bad day" in their lives and thanked the doctors, nurses and rehabilitation staff who help them and the estimated 2,000 patients they will see this year in the trauma ICU.

Then he and other doctors gave each of the three survivors a trauma day medal, describing some of what they went through as images of their treatment and recovery flashed on nearby screens.

Brasfield was heading west on Butler Boulevard when he fell off his sliding motorcycle, only to be hit by two fast-moving cars. He underwent 19 operations at Memorial and spent 35 days in intensive care.

Gabriel Reeves' car crashed on Nov. 17 on the Atlantic Boulevard Intracoastal Bridge after a tire blew out. After crawling out a window, he fell over the railing and landed 80 feet below. He was comatose and suffering from a brain injury, broken back and internal injuries when rescued by firefighters, spending 31 days in the trauma ICU.

"Thank God, otherwise I wouldn't have had the second chance," he said of the paramedics who helped him. "That is what I want to do. I want to go back to school and be a doctor and try to give people a second chance."

One of the paramedics he thanked was engineer Jeff Lundy, riding Jacksonville Rescue 58 that day.

"I rarely get to meet people who survive any kind of traumatic experience, especially one of that nature, so it's a real treat and honor to meet him," Lundy said. "I haven't forgotten that day. He's a true miracle and I told him."

Raquel Haralambou and her family were heading back from St. Augustine on Dec. 26 when what she called "an irresponsible mistake" by another driver saw his pickup hit theirs on Florida 207 in Putnam County. Emergency surgery saved the pregnant woman's life. But her twin babies, just over a month from delivery, were dead, as was her brother in the front seat. She spent 22 days in Memorial's trauma ICU.

She doesn't remember that night but thanked the Putnam County paramedics and the medical staff who saved her.

"I have been craving to meet them, knowing they were the first people in the line who saved my life," she said. "... What they did for me, I can never thank them enough. For me to still be in their hearts to this day is remarkable."

To see Haralambou recovered was great, firefighter Charles Pinkston and paramedic Jake Little said.

"It's a blessing," Pinkston said. "We know the other outcome, so it's mixed emotions. But to see her is great."

"It's a miracle, seeing the shape she was in when we first got there to seeing her walk now," added Little. "The outcome is sad, but we are happy to see her OK."

Brasfield actually attended the hospital's 2019 trauma day event still in a hospital bed, just three months after his crash.

"I just want to give other people hope like they have given me hope," he said, sheepishly admitting he's riding a motorcycle again as he still recovers. "Mostly it is just getting my strength back that's hindering me."

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(c)2021 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

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