Resident Hero

November 18, 1999

Judith Zwolak

The evening of March 22 is one that Tim Allen is unlikely to forget. The Tulane University Hospital and Clinic first-year anesthesiology resident was driving home on the eastbound Interstate 10 high-rise bridge after a long stint at the hospital when he heard the loud bang of a tire blowing out. Thinking the sound might have come from his tire, Allen was pulling over when a devastating scene began to play out before him.

"I saw a car in the left-hand lane run into a car in the right-hand lane and then come toward my car," Allen says.

They both lost control and one flipped over the center divider and was airborne when a semi-truck came along from the other direction and hit it. The car landed on its roof in westbound traffic and Allen got out of his car and ran to the wrecked vehicle. There was a woman in the front seat who was unconscious, with her feet trapped between the steering wheel and the dashboard, and there was a child in a car seat in the back seat crying, he says.

Only later did he learn that a 4-year-old boy had been ejected from the car and killed. Other people rushed to the scene and took the baby from the car while Allen concentrated on the woman.

"My main concern was the gas that had spilled from the car," he says. "I wanted to work quickly, so I checked her pulse and saw that she was still breathing."
While extracting the woman from the car, Allen first made sure he stabilized her neck, which Allen says is one of the most important contributions he made during the ordeal. Someone who is untrained may have just yanked her out of the car causing more damage if the woman had a spinal cord fracture, he says.

While waiting for the emergency medical technicians, Allen stayed by the woman's side and held her chin up to help her breathe. When the EMTs arrived, he helped them establish the woman's airway and then checked on the woman in the other car, who had less serious injuries. Allen says he remained calm by concentrating on keeping the injured woman's airway open and monitoring her breathing and circulation.

"This is stuff I do every day in the O.R.," he says.

It wasn't until the next day that Allen, a graduate of the medical school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, felt shaken by his experience.

"The next morning I was rather struck by it," he says. "They almost hit me, too." One thing Allen learned from the ordeal: to keep a bag ventilator and surgical gloves in his trunk alongside his jumper cables. "Those would have helped a lot, he says. I was covered with blood." (Inside Tulane, 4/15/99)

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000