By any account, Crystal Moore is lucky to be alive.
Tossed from a vehicle on the Antelope Valley Freeway on July 13, she lay crumpled in the fast lane, her skull fractured in three places, both lungs punctured and three vertebrae cracked. Even the paramedics who flew her to a nearby hospital all but wrote her off.
On Wednesday, the shy 13-year-old strolled onto the Los Angeles County Fire Department's helicopter landing pad in Pacoima and thanked the doctor, paramedics and pilot who helped save her life.
"We got a letter from the family a month ago telling us she had recovered," said firefighter paramedic John Haugh, one of the four-member crew who flew to the aid of Moore and three others injured in the accident. "I'd say it's a once-in-a-million recovery."
Crystal and the others who were injured presented their rescuers with a large card and a cake decorated with a helicopter.
"Thanks for saving our lives," said Sarah Hopfer, who rolled out to the crew in a wheelchair to offer them cake.
For Dr. Dan Trueba, the accident occurred during his first week as a volunteer on the chopper, as part of a year-old program teaming trauma physicians with paramedics. A third-year intern at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, Trueba has seen his share of bad accident cases. He'd doubted that Crystal would survive.
"We all feel bad because you always want a little girl like that to live," Trueba said. "It was overwhelming. I was just praying she would be OK."
Crystal's parents, Rick and Cindy Moore, used the opportunity to call for public support of air-rescue funding. The presence of a physician, combined with the shorter, six-minute transport time--versus 40 minutes by land--saved their daughter's life, the Moores said.
"This is the only way that a lot of people are going to survive," said Rick Moore.
The accident occurred when Jaime Naffziger, 17, swerved her car to avoid a road hazard on the Antelope Valley Freeway near Ward Road, said Cindy Moore. Naffziger, Crystal Moore, Sandy Hopfer, 15, and Sarah Hopfer, 14, all were seriously injured in the crash.
Given the sheer number of patients that they treat, paramedics and hospital residents seldom have time to check on old cases, and rarely hear from those they rescue. Wednesday was a welcome change for the crew of Air Squad 9, which also included senior pilot Gary Bertz and firefighter paramedic Layne Contreras.
"Today's the day that brings the reward, the reason we're in this business," he said.