Texas EMS providers give firsthand account of rescuing 6, reviving baby after winter crash

Acadian Paramedic Heather Waites and EMT Ryan Wilkenfeld were recently awarded for their actions after witnessing the crash


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Kaitlin Bain
The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Ryan Wilkenfeld had hit the patch of ice in Port Arthur earlier in the day.

So, when a vehicle "blew by" him, headed toward it, the 36-year-old Acadian Ambulance Service Emergency medical technician already had the mic in his hand ready to call in a 10-50 — a major car crash.

Acadian Ambulance EMT Ryan Wilkenfeld and Paramedic Heather Waites received the agency's Distinguished Service Award for rescuing six people, including a newborn who needed to be resuscitated, after witnessing a major rollover crash in February.
Acadian Ambulance EMT Ryan Wilkenfeld and Paramedic Heather Waites received the agency's Distinguished Service Award for rescuing six people, including a newborn who needed to be resuscitated, after witnessing a major rollover crash in February. (Photo/Acadian Ambulance)

"As I'm calling it in, it was the worst radio tag I've ever had," he said. "It was a 10-50, and as I'm watching and talking, a flip with rollover with entrapment and then, boom, underwater. That was it. You knew immediately they're under water, and without help they're going to die."

Paramedic Heather Waites acknowledged that she's had a number of dramatic calls in her five years as a paramedic and 20 in the medical field, but seeing the crashes happen isn't typically part of the job.

This usually gives EMS workers time to make a plan of attack once on the scene. But even without that time, the pair said it didn't take any thought to decide to pull over on Feb. 17, during the worst winter storm the state has seen in years.

The two were transporting a non-critical patient when they saw the wreck happen.

"We just knew what we were going to do and what needed to be done. You could hear the screams from inside the vehicle. They were yelling for help. Babies were crying," Waites said. "Ryan has a special tool he carries all the time, and after nine attempts, throwing his body into the attempts, he was able to break the windows."

Wilkenfeld said the force of the water pressure on the windows actually dented the steel tool.

Ultimately, the pair got five passengers out of the vehicle, and they thought their work was done.

"We were like, 'Awesome,' but for (one of the passengers) to turn around and say, 'Where's the baby? Where's the newborn?' That's all I needed," Waites said. "I dove right back in the water and started searching until I pulled up the baby. He was limp. I couldn't find the pulse, and he was not breathing. I immediately started CPR in the vehicle and then crawled out with him."

Just as the fire department was pulling up, the pair took all six of the vehicle's passengers, plus the one they were already transporting, the less than 1-mile distance to the Medical Center of Southeast Texas.

Waites said on the drive, she continued chest compressions and treating the 1-month-old baby while instructing the other people who were in the car, which included two 2-year-old children, to remove their clothes and wrap in warm blankets to avoid hypothermia.

After they arrived at the hospital, the baby was stabilized and taken to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

Just three days later, the baby was awake, alive, eating and breathing with "no deficits," said Acadian Ambulance Quality Improvement Coordinator Cal Bynum.

The act of heroism earned the pair a "Distinguished Service Award" from Acadian — the first two awarded in the past 14 years and two of fewer than a dozen that have been awarded in the company's 49-year history.

According to a news release, the award recognizes medics "who perform actions considered above and beyond the call of duty."

Waites and Wilkenfeld both said they were honored to be recognized, but they also acknowledged the courageous work all first responders do on a daily basis without recognition.

"This one was especially emotional because it involved a child," Waites said after the award ceremony, while holding her granddaughter. "I don't want a parent to ever have to bear the loss of a child. I would never, ever want another person to feel that."

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(c)2021 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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