Since a helicopter took 26-year-old Barbara (Sandy) Lee to the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore 10 days ago, the Prince George's County firefighter has fought against odds for her survival, with the help of doctors, family and more than a hundred blood donors.
Lee was run over by a 16-ton fire truck and lost much of the skin on her back, thighs and buttocks. Injuries to her pelvis were described by Dr. Sheldon Brotman, the physician in charge of her case, as "massive." Within 30 hours of the accident, she had received more than 200 units of whole blood.
"The average person has 10 units of blood in the body. Most patients who receive as much as 30 units of blood die from shock or from any number of things," said Brotman.
"Sandy is by no means out of the woods yet," he continued, "but she has a reasonable chance of survival. I don't know whether that's a world record, but it's got to be pretty damn close. This is one of the most miraculous cases we've ever had."
He said that on the day after the transfusions, Lee wrote him a note that read: "I need to go on living. Will I still be a firefighter?"
"Someone who writes a note like that . . .there's got to be a place for her ," said Brotman.
Lee, who Brotman said is "fully alert," has been receiving whirlpool therapy and antibiotics for the past four days. The transfusions have nearly stopped, and Brotman said that his greatest concern now is the possibility of infection.
Since the accident, bloodmobiles have visited fire and police departments around the county and have met with "a tremendous response," said fire department spokesman Capt. Jim Mundy. "We've had to tell people to make appointments in some cases. The lines were that long."
One response on the first night after the accident came from an 89-year-old woman living in Emerson House, the apartment building in Bladensburg where the alarm went off that sent Lee and the other firefighters out of the station. "She said she was too old to give blood, but could she do anything," said Mundy. "We've had calls from California. It's just inspiring, really."
Lee, a Laurel native, is one of eight women among the 513 firefighters in Prince George's County. At 19 she became a volunteer firefighter at the Bladensburg station and, at 23, the first woman hired by the county fire department. Last month she qualified to begin training for sergeant.
She was critically injured the night of Sept. 28 when she fell from a ladder truck as it rolled down the ramp of the Tuxedo-Cheverly station, a few miles north of the District line. She was rushed to Prince George's County General Hospital, then flown by helicopter to Baltimore.