A Columbus teen had something specific in mind for about a dozen first responders who held her life in their hands after a terrifying car accident.
“I wanted to be able to meet everyone who helped save my life and thank them,” said 16-year-old Lynley Arnholt.
Arnholt traveled with her family Saturday to the Indianapolis Heliport for a reunion with dispatchers, police, and ground and air ambulance crews who were a part of her rescue after a Sept. 22 car-bus accident in Columbus.
It was an opportunity for her to meet them under less harrowing circumstances and to revisit what happened that day through their eyes.
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Continuing a miraculous recovery, Arnholt has returned to her junior-year studies at Columbus East High School — although she misses school from time to time when daytime appointments are required with medical specialists in Indianapolis.
“I’m seeing doctors — a lot of doctors I’ve never seen before,” Arnholt said.
“Like an electrophysiologist (who treats abnormal heart rhythms); I’d never heard of that before,” she said.
But it had been the unidentified first responders that Arnholt wanted to personally thank, as she doesn’t remember the minutes leading up to the accident, the accident, or what happened when she was extricated from her vehicle and flown by LifeLine helicopter to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Arnholt was driving her car behind a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. bus traveling north on Gladstone Avenue at 3:46 p.m. Sept. 22 when she lost consciousness and drove into the back of the bus, with the bus’ bumper smashing into the driver’s side of her car.
The location was fortuitous, as it happened just blocks from Columbus Regional Hospital — and where Columbus police, firefighters, ambulances and school officials were only minutes away.
Arnholt suffered severe injuries to the right side of her face, which required seven hours of surgery. She also suffered a back injury, two brain bleeds and was classified as having a severe traumatic brain injury, her family said. However, cognitively, the teen has passed every test the doctors gave her, leading them to believe the brain bleeds are resolving on their own.
“There are some calls you know right away are serious, and this was one of them,” said Amanda Aird, a dispatcher who works at the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center.
Wendy Horne, a day-shift supervisor at the operations center, played the first 911 calls about the accident for Arnholt on Saturday at the heliport so she could listen to emergency responders being dispatched to the accident.
John Velten, the first Columbus police officer to arrive, described the scene as chaotic. Besides Arnholt, students on the school bus also needed to be checked. Velten was joined by officer Ben Goodin moments later.
“She was not in good shape,” Velten said of Arnholt, adding that part of his job is to make sure the emergency scene is safe for medical personnel to work.
Although police officers commonly wait for ambulance personnel to make a call for a LifeLine helicopter, Velten radioed for one immediately, before the ambulance arrived.
“It’s only the second time in 11 years that I’ve done that,” he said.
Kristy Gibson, an Indiana University Health nurse with LifeLine, introduced the first responders to the Arnholt family in the order that they arrived on the scene, starting with the dispatchers through the arrival of the LifeLine crew, who landed on the nearby Greenbelt Golf Course near the accident scene.
“I think it’s safe to say everyone here has thought about you, prayed for your recovery and is so elated to see you standing before us today,” Gibson said, as she invited each first responder to meet Arnholt and her family. “You truly are nothing short of a miracle and you and your story are why we all do the job we do.”
Among the first to give Arnholt a hug was Justin Steele, a LifeLine critical care nurse who took care of her on the helicopter flight to Methodist.
He gave her flowers and a hug, and later welcomed her back into the LifeLine helicopter at the heliport hangar so she could explore the aircraft and ask questions about what happened that day and how she was transported to Indianapolis.
Arnholt was semiconscious when removed on a backboard from the passenger-side window of her vehicle by Columbus firefighters and ambulance personnel, and Steele remembers moving quickly from the helicopter on the golf course to the ambulance where she was being stabalized.
“On a side note, it was a 100-degree day,” Steele said.
Because of Steele’s head and facial injuries, a rapid-trauma assessment determined that she would need to have a tracheal tube inserted and be sedated, so seven of the medical first reponders crowded into the ambulance for the procedure before moving Arnholt to the helicopter for the 20-minute ride to Methodist.
Her flight was one of about 4,000 LifeLine makes each year around Indiana, from Indianapolis and other community hospitals around the state, including Columbus.
CRH emergency medical technician Emily Young and paramedic Jerry Dirrum were preparing to sign out of service when their ambulance was called to Arnholt’s accident scene.
Young, who lives in Hope, remembers thinking that no one could be alive in the car wedged under the bus as the two arrived at the accident.
Arnholt was somewhat awake when Young and Dirrum placed her in the ambulance, and Young remembers telling the girl to try to hold still as they waited a few minutes for the helicopter to arrive.
Meeting Arnholt — a seriously injured patient who is now doing well — is something that Young said she had never done before in her medical career.
“We can ask somebody how they did, but most times we don’t know,” she said.
The one group of rescuers Arnholt didn’t get to meet were the Columbus firefighters who worked to lift the bus off the teen’s car and extricate her from her crushed vehicle. They were all on duty in Columbus on Saturday, but Chief Mike Compton sent their gratitude for the opportunity to meet Arnholt and invited her to stop by the fire house for a personal reunion.
Among those that Lynley Arnholt and her mother, Kristina Arnholt, wanted to thank Saturday was Russ Cuthbert, a member of the LifeLine crew who was on his final flight when taking the teen to Methodist.
Based in Columbus, Cuthbert had worked for 21 years on the LifeLine flight medical crew, and Lynley Arnholt’s transport was his final critical patient as a paramedic for the air ambulance.
He received hugs from the Arnholt family and stood quietly talking with Kristina Arnholt at the back of the LifeLine helicopter as her daughter took selfies with family members inside the aircraft.
“It’s fantastic to see her doing so well,” said Cuthbert, who now lives in Muncie and works at the Saxony emergency room there.
“She is this well because of everything you do,” Kristina Arnholt said.
To the entire group, Kristina Arnholt, an emergency room nurse at Major Hospital in Shelbyville, expressed heartfelt thanks for saving her daughter’s life.
Breaking into tears, which she admitted does not happen often, she told each first responder how grateful she was for what they did that day for Lynley.
“This was truly nothing short of a miracle,” said Gibson, the IU LifeLine nurse, of the outcome for Lynley Arnholt and her continuing recovery. “This is why we sign up for what we do every day.”
School: Junior at Columbus East High School, where she is in the top 10 percent of her class and vice president of the FFA chapter. She is an eight-year member of 4-H.
Future plans: Hopes to become an emergency room doctor.
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Medical bills for Lynley Arnhot are approaching the $2 million mark, the family reported this week. A fund has been set up to help defray medical costs incurred by the family. Donations are being accepted at any Old National Bank branch by asking to donate to the Lynley Arnholt medical fund.