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South Oaks team pitches in after dangerous accident

Back row (l-r): Spiro Vouthas, Robert Norton, Joseph Modlin, Al Acardi and Paul Chatham. Front row (l-r): Andrew Kasan, Tamar Vieux, Melissa D’Agostino and Jessica Zito
Back row (l-r): Spiro Vouthas, Robert Norton, Joseph Modlin, Al Acardi and Paul Chatham. Front row (l-r): Andrew Kasan, Tamar Vieux, Melissa D’Agostino and Jessica Zito

Nurses, counselors, security and administrators all joined to help young children avoid additional injuries

If true bravery is defined by selfless acts that put others before your own well-being, then there are quite a few heroes working at South Oaks Hospital.

In mid-August, a team of security, nursing and administrative staff never hesitated after a severe car accident outside of the hospital resulted in a potentially dangerous situation. Without panic, the team transitioned from psychiatric to emergency care to help a mother and her family escape the fiery crash and receive proper medical attention.

Here’s what happened.

On August 14 around 3 p.m., two vehicles collided in the intersection of County Line Road and Sunrise Highway. The driver of the first vehicle was uninjured, but he had two unsecured oxygen tanks and a full tank of gas.

The second vehicle, which allegedly made an illegal right on red, carried five individuals, including a pregnant mother, her 17-year-old daughter and three minors (ages 9, 5 and 4). The children were not in car seats and were injured.

“That intersection is bad,” said Joe Modlin, director of security at South Oaks and Zucker Hillside Hospitals, who dispatched the team after the accident. “If you get into an accident over there it’s most likely at a high speed.”

Moving into action

After the crash, the biggest fear was the potential for the tanks to explode. In reality, though, it was a matter of when, not if.

“One oxygen tank had blown sky high,” Mr. Modlin said. Luckily, the South Oaks team had moved the individuals away from the scene prior to the explosion.

They then tended to their injuries.

“The three kids were in the back, weren’t in car seats and not secured in,” Mr. Modlin said. “One of the girls had a head injury, it was swollen. Another child was in and out of consciousness. It was bad. 

“We were the first on the scene before the police and ambulance. With everyone being nurses and former cops, we knew we had to act.”

Their innate ability to respond to traumatic situations kicked in: 

  • Registered nurses Jessica Zito and Melissa D’Agostino administered first aid to the minors who were in and out of consciousness with lacerations. Tamar Viex, RN, assisted them. 
  • Michael Morrone, an EMT, administered first aid to slow bleeding of the pregnant woman. 
  • Andrew Kasan, MSW, a counselor, brought gloves, bandages and ice packs to the scene while Paul Chatham, security staff, evacuated bystanders away from the car fire and exploding oxygen tanks.
  • Bobby Norton, security staff, transported all the nurses directly to the scene.
  • Al Acardi, also security, secured South Oaks’ campus to ensure safety.
  • Spiro Vouthas organized radio traffic and responded to personnel.
  • Arthur Nappo organized staff to relieve the day tour.

“It was mass chaos and very upsetting,” Ms. Zito said. “The one car was engulfed in flames. The other was T-boned. The children were not restrained, which led to more injuries.”

Calming the kids

As the chaotic situation developed, Ms. Zito and Ms. D’Agostino focused on providing medical assistance to the children.

“I worked on the nine and five-year-olds,” Ms. D’Agostino said. “The little girl looked like she had a broken leg. Her head swelled up like three times the size. She was screaming.

“The little boy kept saying he couldn’t feel his legs. He was losing consciousness. I turned around and the baby had lost consciousness…One paramedic came and went to nine year old. I said take the baby, she was going out of consciousness. Jess helped put the baby on the body board and neck brace. I then told them to take the boy."

The children were all taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation.

In all, the South Oaks team’s response helped prevent a bad situation from worsening.

“I’ve been at South Oaks 20-plus years, and trauma nursing is very different than psychiatric nursing,” Ms. Zito said. “The fact that this team isn’t trained for that kind of medical emergency is what we are in awe of. We worked as a well-oiled machine.”