Former student rescues sister from Florida accident; saves her life
Sister Ann Paula Pohlman and Sister Margaret Louise Bernard were planning a day of adventure at the Port of Tampa (Fla.) to see some tour ships that were open at the aquarium. Shortly after noon on March 15, 2013, they left their apartment complex in Bradenton. Sister Ann Paula attempted to make a turn into a gasoline station and the sisters’ car was struck by an oncoming vehicle.
Sister Ann Paula suffered from upper-body hematomas, one of which still requires treatment. It was a far different story for Sister Margaret Louise. When EMT Andrew Powers arrived at the scene, he knew Sister Margaret Louise was injured badly. But, while he was doing his initial assessment, he and Sister Margaret Louise reconnected as teacher and pupil. She had taught him as one of her former fourth-grade students at St. Joseph School in Bradenton. She also taught his sister, Bridget.
Andrew took charge of the situation and instructed an ambulance driver to take Sister Margaret Louise to Blake Medical Center’s trauma unit, which was the furthest away from the scene. Sister Ann Paula went by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
After undergoing emergency treatment and tests, Sister Margaret Louise was diagnosed with a neck fracture in two places, a fractured collar bone, broken ribs and broken pelvis in six places. She underwent surgery to screw her neck into place.
Andrew stayed at the trauma center until Sister Margaret Louise was stabilized. The ER staff told Andrew he saved sister’s life by his first-response work and treatment. Soon, the other five Sisters of Providence who live in the Bradenton area were at the hospital planning how they could help. Sister Ann Paula called Sister Josephine Bryan, a nurse, who now is a holistic health care director in Wisconsin. She traveled to Florida and stayed at Sister Margaret Louise’s side for 10 days, a critical period for her recovery.
Sister Margaret Louise was in Blake Medical Center for three weeks, at an interim hospital for another 3 weeks, then Blake’s intensive rehabilitation area for another three weeks. She has endured aggressive rehabilitation with physical therapy, occupational therapy and throat therapy. Sister Ann Paula said Sister Margaret Louise continues using a feeding tube.
Andrew had to cut away Sister Margaret Louise’s windbreaker as she was being transported from the scene. He brought her a replacement jacket, but was not allowed to visit her because of family-only rules. However, recognizing the family-like nature of the sisters who were present, hospital staff did allow them visitation time.
“I felt very safe in the ambulance and even more so after saying hello to Andy Powers and learning he was one of my former pupils. After that, I don’t remember anything and I was under his special care,” Sister Margaret Louise said. “It took me a couple of weeks to realize the seriousness of my condition. As I looked around in my trauma center room, I saw Sisters of Providence at the foot of my bed. That gave me great courage to improve each day.”
Turning to prayer
“The most vivid memories I have as I was recovering are that Sister Ann Paula and Sister Carolyn Glynn seemed to never leave my side. As days passed, Sister Ann Paula would come every day to the hospital. She walked in with a big smile and then showed me her big surprise: our little dog, Abby, for me to enjoy in between eight therapy sessions a day,” Sister Margaret Louise recalled. “The get-well wishes from all of the Sisters of Providence showed me what a wonderful family I belong to.”
Meanwhile, Sister Ann Paula was bracing for the worst.
“I didn’t think a frail 89-year-old could survive those injuries. Every day that brought some good news, I realized how much the Lord was with us in this terrible time. I had lost sight of Sister Margaret Louise’s tenacity for life. No matter what the doctor told her to do, she followed it to the letter of the law and Sister Josephine was by her side, making decisions and encouraging her,” Sister Ann Paula said.
As Sister Margaret Louise tried to recover from surgery and subsequent treatment, Holy Week had come.
“I remember praying, ‘Lord, we are physically on the cross with you this week. I don’t have the time or the strength to actually pray to you, but every action and suffering is my prayer.’ After that, I began looking at each good day and each SP’s involvement as a resurrection for us. I had never felt Holy Week and Easter that way,” Sister Ann Paula said.
Andrew is the charge paramedic on his “truck,” which means he takes charge at the scene and makes initial decisions about what initial treatment.
“When I got to the scene, I saw that there was major damage to the vehicle. I did a quick assessment and saw that the woman had multiple fractures, multiple injuries. She needed to go to a designated trauma center,” Andrew said.
Extrication began for Sister Ann Paula first. Andrew needed to climb across the driver’s seat to reach Sister Margaret Louise. He covered her with extrication blankets and Andrew got under those blankets with her. That’s when Andrew learned her identity.
As he tried to “project calmness,” for the victim he was aiding, he asked her name. She told him Sister Margaret Louise.
“Did you ever teach?” he asked.
“Yes, 50 years,” she responded.
“Did you ever teach at St. Joe?” he asked again.
That’s when Andrew said, “Oh, I remember you. You were one of my teachers.”
Other rescuers were cutting open the crushed door from the passenger side and Andrew was able to do a more thorough assessment. “I saw that her injuries were pretty severe.”
He was plenty worried.
At the trauma center, Sister Margaret Louise was just one case in line on a busy day for trauma patients. Andrew remembers asking the attending physician to take special care of Sister Margaret Louise because of his personal connection.
“It definitely makes it personal. We try very hard to keep it impersonal. I was more conscious of her comfort level, but it’s still a job,” he said. Andrew is qualified to administer pain medicine on the scene.
Andrew said he was able to keep abreast of sister’s recovery from other sisters in the Bradenton area and from hospital staff. He went to visit Sister Margaret Louise on Aug. 19 at her home. “It was one of the first times I have ever felt comfortable to go visit someone” he had rescued, Andrew said. “She answered the door. I couldn’t believe it.”
The jacket that Andrew took to the hospital to replace the one he cut away was a jacket his mother wore at the Boston Marathon in April. His mother, Katie, is a nurse. She goes to the Boston Marathon each year to work in the First Aid Tent. Sister Ann Paula said Katie thought she would be passing out bandages, but ended up working on seriously wounded people with amputations.
For her emergency triage work in Boston, she was given the Key to the City in her hometown of Bradenton.
Katie normally works in the maternity ward at Manatee Memorial Hospital, and that is where Sister Ann Paula went for treatment after the accident. Katie also writes a newspaper column for the Bradenton Herald.
On the mend now
Sister Margaret Louise recently resumed taking the sisters’ dog for a short walk. She is finished with medical care. She does still have the feeding tube, but that will be surgically removed soon. A physical therapy nurse still visits the sisters’ home weekly to continue her recovery. She is beginning to gain a little weight, certainly significant improvement since the afternoon of March 15. On Aug. 15, the Florida sisters surprised Sister Margaret Louise and Sister Ann Paula with a party, cake and all. Certainly it was a welcome five-month milestone.