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Miracle Survivors Meet their SEPTA Rescuers

Jerri Williams
Director, SEPTA Media Relations

When Todd Streets entered the waiting area of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's (HUP) cardiac unit to meet the two people who had saved his life, he didn't recognize them. He didn't remember much from that January evening a week earlier. One minute he had been standing on the SEPTA Regional Rail platform at 30th Street Station waiting for the Chestnut Hill West train and the next minute he was waking up in a hospital bed with tubes and wire all around him.

Station manager Garry Deans, one of Streets' rescuers, filled in the time gaps for him. Deans had been standing on tracks 5-6 looking in the direction of track 3-4 when he witnessed Streets grab his chest and drop to the ground. "I flew down one stairway and up the other. I don't recall my feet touching the ground," said Deans. When he reached Streets he was unconscious and his body was partially resting on the yellow space near track 3 "fouling the track area." This added urgency to the already dangerous situation. Dean, relying on instinct and experience gained from 17 years of service with SEPTA, contacted the Control Center and had the next train - only minutes from arriving - held.

Jeanne Pundt, a former emergency room nurse who now works for an insurance company, was waiting for her train further down the platform. When she heard a commotion, she came over to see if she could be of assistance.

"Normally, it's best not to move a person who has fallen. We had no idea what was wrong," said Pundts. "But the position he had fallen in made it very difficult for Garry and I to read his pulse."

Deans and Pundt decided to flip Streets over and pull him away for the edge of the platform. When neither Pundt nor Deans were able to find a pulse and realized Streets was not breathing, Pundt asked Deans if there was an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) available. There was a unit located right at the bottom of the stairway Deans had just ascended. He retrieved the AED and they went to work, first applying the AED and shocking Streets back to life and then administering CPR. It wasn't until Amtrak police officers O'Keefe and Batista took over compressions and the ambulance arrived to transport Streets to HUP, that Deans and Pundt realized they had played a major role in a miracle. SEPTA employees Earl Peebles and Regina Fortson were also on site to provide assistance.

Dr. Benjamin Abella, MD, who serves as the Clinical Research Director for the Center for Resuscitation Science, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that the immediate actions of the station supervisors, civilian, and police officers and availability of the AED unit had a direct effect on Streets' survival. "I've seen a lot of situations that don't turn out well," said Abella. "It was a miracle that the right people were there at the right time." Currently SEPTA owns 62 AED units which are deployed at key stations, employee facilities and mobile Transit Police units throughout the system.

Streets, who had bypass surgery to fix blockages to his heart, is expected to make a full recovery. He and his wife, Nina, plan to meet up with Deans, Pundt and their families to go out to dinner. Streets said it best: "We'll break bread together and celebrate life."

Another reunion between a survivor and his miracle rescuers took place last month at SEPTA's Berridge Shop. More than six months earlier, Walter Rivera had been involved in a horrific motorcycle accident right in front of the West Wyoming Avenue fatality.

John Solecki, Stephen Boon, and Joseph Benedict, all employees with SEPTA's Revenue Operations Department, were working at their desks on that bright summer morning when they heard a crash and a scream. A car had made a U-turn in the middle of the street and the crash was Rivera and his motorcycle slamming into the car and bursting into flames. The scream came from the department's time keeper clerk, Donna "Cookie" Ridley. She was outside and had witnessed the accident.

Solecki, Boon and Benedict immediately ran out of the building and saw Rivera trapped under the burning vehicles. Huge flames shot up from the car as the three men risked their own lives and approached the inferno to pull Rivera to safety. Boon ran back inside the shop to grab a fire extinguisher and attempted to put out the flames. The vehicle continued to burn, but the extinguisher snuffed out the fire from Rivera's smoldering clothes. The employees and a stranger who was never identified did their best to comfort Rivera while they waited for the medical assistance to arrive. The entire accident and rescue was captured by the surveillance cameras surrounding the facility. Although the video has no audio, Solecki, Boon and Benedict say they will never forget Rivera's anguished cries of pain.

Rivera lay in an induced coma at Temple University's burn unit for more than a month and remained there another 30 days while undergoing six surgeries to install a metal rod to support his crushed right femur and to graph skin from his upper thigh to his severely burned lower legs and feet. After a third month of rehabilitation, he was released to continue his recovery and rehab at home.

As soon as he was well enough, Rivera, accompanied by his mother and step-father, Beverly and Felix Santiago, and two close friends came to Berridge to meet and thank the men who had saved his life. It was an emotional reunion.

Rivera and his mother brought gift baskets and had plaques made thanking the SEPTA employees for their bravery. Solecki, Boon and Benedict put together a box full of Phillies souvenirs for Rivera and his four children. Rivera, who lives near the Berridge Shop, plans to keep in contact with his rescuers.

"I will always thank them for saving my life. If it wasn't for them," he said, "I wouldn't be here with my family."


Pundt, Streets and Deans pose for a photo in the HUP cardiac unit waiting room.



Station Manager Garry Deans signs Streets' cardiac survivor heart pillow.



The AED program is managed by SEPTA's System Safety and Risk Management Department.



Felix, Beverly and Walter Rivera present plaques of appreciation to revenue operations employees John Solecki, Joseph Benedict and Stephen Boon.



Walter describes his injuries to his rescuers as Chief Engineer Jeff Knueppel and Walters' friends Sam and Joshua Padilla listen. Cookie Ridley can be seen in the background.