A Texas woman who survived a gruesome auto accident in January because a trio of soldiers stopped to help her was thrilled at the chance to personally thank them for their heroism, she tells Yahoo Shine.
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“It meant the world to be able to do that,” Linda Hartman, 37, says. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. My kids wouldn’t have a mom. My husband wouldn’t have a wife. My parents wouldn’t have a daughter. My siblings wouldn’t have a sister. I think about that every day.”
The soldiers who stopped to help just happened to have military medical training, and one in particular, Sgt. Mike Black, was able to apply a tourniquet to stop life-threatening bleeding. Now he’s on track to receive the distinctive Soldier’s Medal, one of the highest military honors given for bravery in a civilian setting.
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On that winter morning, Hartman was asleep in the passenger seat while commuting home with a coworker—they had just finished a security-guard night shift at the White Sands Missile Range—when their car veered off an icy highway and flipped several times. She recalls being awakened by her friend who was crying and apologizing, explaining that they’d just been in an accident and that Hartman’s legs were severely broken and bleeding.
“I saw my right femur bone sticking out of my pants, and he was applying pressure,” she recalls. “But at this point I’m still calm, and amazed, like, ‘This isn’t happening.’” Her friend called their dispatch services from work, as well as Hartman’s husband, who showed up quickly. But it was early on a Saturday morning and they were in the “middle of nowhere,” she says, describing a stretch of desert that’s home only to military facilities. That’s when the soldiers, in town from Wisconsin to train at Fort Bliss for an upcoming Afghanistan mission, came along.
“We had been guarding ammo all night at White Sands,” Sgt. Mike Black, 23, tells Yahoo Shine about driving home with Sgt. Todd Richter and Specialist Joshua April. “And we were all pretty tired and ready for bed.” But when they noticed the car off to the side of the road, with debris all around, they stopped to see if they could help. Black says he grabbed the small medic bag he had with him before heading over to Hartman. But it was still a nerve-racking moment: Though he had received military medical training and had just recently had a refresher course, Hartman was to be Black’s first live patient.
“That was the only thing surprising about the situation,” Capt. Matthew Mangerson, Black’s unit commander, tells Yahoo Shine. “But in terms of his character, it doesn’t surprise me at all. He is responsible and conscientious. He jumped in and took charge, and he did so with extreme expertise.” Mangerson recommended Black for the Soldier’s Medal because it’s an award that’s earned when a soldier saves someone while putting himself at risk—in this case, gasoline pouring out of the car created a particularly dangerous situation.
Upon seeing Hartman, Black recalls, “I saw how serious her condition was.” He saw a “fair amount of blood” and realized that the bone had pierced her femoral artery—an injury that could cause death in a matter of minutes. He immediately began applying a tourniquet, as Richter sat behind Hartman and held her hand, he says. “The gravity of the situation really hit home at that point.”
Hartman somehow managed to remain lucid. “I asked Sgt. Black if I was dying and he said, ‘I have to get this tourniquet on.’ I remember him talking to me, asking me all kinds of questions—do I have kids, do I have animals, anything to keep me awake. And then he said, ‘This is going to hurt.’”
The ordeal became even more traumatic because of the weather conditions: An ambulance that arrived had to turn back without Hartman because it had no heat. Then a medevac unit couldn’t land because of thick fog. Finally, another ambulance arrived and whisked her to the hospital, where she woke up two days later after 10 hours of surgery that involved inserting rods into both legs and attaching skin grafts to close up the wound caused by the broken femur.
Hartman’s complications since then have included a staph infection that forced a surgeon to remove the rods, deciding between an amputation and a knee fusion (she chose the fusion, which didn’t take) and another infection; now she remains in casts awaiting a bone-graft surgery. She is unable to work—as is her husband, who is on military disability and cares for his wife round the clock—and she is mom to two teenagers. “In the beginning it was very hard for them,” she says.
But being able to reunite with the soldiers last week—a meeting facilitated by Ashley Alameda, who does publicity for the military’s Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment—has been a bright spot for Hartman. She had stayed in touch with Black through Facebook since he was deployed, but meeting him and the others in person was incredibly emotional.
“I was so lucky,” she says. “For some reason, I had these guardian angels there.”
The reunion was meaningful for Black, too. “It kind of brought everything full circle,” he says. “Finally meeting her and seeing how strong she’s been was really inspiring. It helped me see how one person can really affect another.”
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