Two minutes after the June 2 shooting call came in to Medic 1, the ambulance wailed up to Seaton Elementary School and the three D.C. paramedics began desperately battling for the ebbing life of a 14-year-old girl who lay motionless on the sidewalk.

Tanessa Starnes had been walking with her friends when, in one chilling instant, a bullet ripped into her chest, struck her heart and sheared through one of her lungs. The paramedics thought she would never make it to the hospital.

Yesterday the diminutive Starnes, wearing a white bathrobe and a big smile, walked into a Children's Hospital playroom to tell reporters that she was going home soon.

"I feel fine," said a beaming Starnes, slowly walking in on the arm of Mayor Marion Barry, who had come to the hospital with other D.C. officials to sing the praises of the city's ambulance service. "I probably wouldn't be like this if it wasn't for {the paramedics}."

The recovery of Tanessa Starnes is a much-needed success story for the city's troubled ambulance service, which has come under heavy fire in recent months after reports of ambulances that are slow to arrive, drivers who get lost and dispatchers who argue with callers.

Starnes, an eighth grader at Shaw Junior High School, was standing with other students in front of Seaton that Tuesday afternoon when several youths on motor scooters passed and one fired a handgun into the crowd.

John Proper, a paramedic for 13 years, said Starnes was lying on her back, grayish, sweating and "heartbeats away from death" when he and his colleagues, Van Coppedge and Donna Beverly, arrived. Starnes was not breathing and had no pulse or blood pressure.

The paramedics began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, immobilized the girl's neck, administered an intravenous solution and wrapped her in "military antishock" trousers, which push lower body fluids up to give vital organs more blood, Proper said.

The paramedics then strapped her on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance and headed toward Children's Hospital.

"We were two-thirds of the way, there were so many things to concentrate on and I was about to radio in her status," Proper said. "Suddenly I hear someone in the background say, 'We've got a pulse.' "

"I said, 'Excuse me, you gotta be kidding.' The next thing I knew, she was breathing, moaning and gagging on a tube."

"The greatest moment was to see her breathe," said Coppedge, who was in the back of the ambulance with Starnes. "We did everything that we were trained to do, and God willing she would come back. And she did. It brought a tear to my eye."

But by the time they got to the hospital and Starnes was lifted onto the emergency room operating table, her condition had gone downhill again.

"She was brought in practically dead," said Dr. Kurt Newman, the trauma surgeon who operated on her for 90 minutes. "We ripped open her chest, I plugged up the two holes in her heart with my fingers and sewed her heart together. Then I sewed up several holes in her lung." The bullet is still lodged in her ribs, Newman said.

"To our amazement, she survived the procedure," Newman said. "To our surprise, she woke up the next morning."

Four youths, including a 14-year-old Shaw student, were arrested in connection with the shooting and three were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, police said.

Sources said the shooting might have been connected to an altercation that afternoon in which Starnes' boyfriend had been involved.

City officials were quick to point to the role of the ambulance service in the recovery of Starnes, of 49 U St. NW.

"The service does work," said Assistant Fire Chief Maurice D. Kilby, acting head of the ambulance service.

Barry added: "It's a great ambulance service. This is a home run with all the bases loaded, and we won the game. We can shout about this rather than cry."

William Starnes, Tanessa's father, said that if not for the ambulance service, "my daughter wouldn't be alive today."

Starnes, a maintenance engineer with four children, dismissed reports of slow-arriving ambulances as "only five incidents out of God knows how many positive ones like my daughter."