Paramedic is honored for helping to save her fiance's life

Kelley Smith, a paid paramedic for Charles County and a volunteer in Calvert County, received an award for saving the life of her fiance, Anthony Cooper, after their emergency vehicle was in an accident.
Kelley Smith, a paid paramedic for Charles County and a volunteer in Calvert County, received an award for saving the life of her fiance, Anthony Cooper, after their emergency vehicle was in an accident. (Emily Barnes/maryland Independent)
By Nancy Bromley McConaty
Maryland Independent
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Paramedic Kelley Smith said she never imagined that when she jumped into an emergency vehicle with her fiance to answer a call in Calvert County in January that the couple would end up in a ditch, surrounded by shattered glass and twisted metal.

The actions Smith took in saving Anthony Cooper's life following the accident at Route 4 and Cove Point Road earned her a Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems' 2010 Stars of Life award.

"I told him that help was coming," Smith said. Despite her own injuries, she said, she automatically responded to Cooper. "I started doing what I know how to do. I told him that I was going to take care of him, that nothing was going to happen to him."

Smith's was one of 14 Stars of Life awards the institute presented statewide this year. The institute oversees and coordinates all components of Maryland's EMS system. Its annual award ceremony recognizes exemplary emergency medical services personnel, citizens and programs, institute spokesman James Brown said. This year's ceremony was May 20 in Annapolis.

Smith, 35, and Cooper, 28, are volunteer paramedics with Calvert County Advanced Life Support in Prince Frederick, a volunteer EMS unit established by the Calvert County Board of Commissioners.

The couple were responding to an emergency call about 2 a.m. Jan. 1 when 20-year-old Mia Amanda Janae Whalen of Lexington Park failed to yield the right of way in a Mitsubishi sport-utility vehicle, cut across southbound Route 4 at Cove Point Road and slammed into the ALS Ford Expedition that Cooper was driving, according to the Calvert County Sheriff's Office.

Whalen, who failed a sobriety test, was charged with driving under the influence and was cited for reckless driving and negligent driving, according to a report from the sheriff's office.

A pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled July 6, and a jury trial for July 27. Both will be heard in Calvert County Circuit Court in Prince Frederick.

Smith said the emergency SUV hit a pole and landed on its side in a drainage ditch. Glass shattered, she said, adding that the driver's seat broke in half and the door caved in. Despite facial cuts and injuries to her neck and back, Smith got her bearings and began providing life support to Cooper, who was unconscious.

"I got myself together and looked over at my fiance," Smith, a La Plata resident, said. "He was in and out of consciousness. I didn't think that he was going to make it. I tried to stay calm and I called the dispatcher and said that somebody hit us. At first I didn't know where we were."

Because the seat belt was choking Cooper, she cut it off so that he could breathe, said Smith, who is a paid paramedic with the Charles County Department of Emergency Services in La Plata. She also gave him oxygen and hooked him to an IV.

"I take care of people all of the time; I've seen some horrible things but seeing him like that was just horrible," she said. "The whole thing was very emotional."

Said Cooper: "I just remember hearing her voice; she told me that she loved me and to hold on."

Cooper, a paid cardiac rescue technician with the All American medical transport service, and a volunteer firefighter with Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department's Westlake station in St. Charles, suffered a lacerated spleen and was having trouble breathing, Smith said. They eventually were transported to Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick. Doctors later transferred Cooper to Washington Hospital Center in the District, Smith said.

Cooper's left lung was partially collapsed because of phrenic nerve damage that causes paralysis in the diaphragm, Smith said, adding that he is on disability for the ailment, which could render him permanently disabled.

Cooper said he is grateful to be alive. The couple have purchased a home in La Plata and plan to marry in December.

Smith, who has three herniated vertebral disks in her back because of the accident, responded to the incident like a true professional, Brown said.

"She definitely went above and beyond the call of duty," he said. "The incident really moved our nomination committee."

"Kelley's actions were heroic," said Sharon Eskins, the former chief of Calvert County Advanced Life Support, who nominated her for the award.

Smith has received other awards for saving lives, including the Potomac Heights Volunteer Fire Department Life Saving Award in 2005 for reviving a 13-month-old who stopped breathing when a cord from a window blind became wrapped around his neck.

Smith said she is honored to be recognized for saving Cooper's life, but that her real reward is being able to share her life with him.

"We're here; he's with me," she said. "I'm very happy, very thankful."

"It's great that other people recognize what she did for me," Cooper said. "She's my hero."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company