Although they helped save the life of a 46-year-old man pinned beneath a train in Northeast Philadelphia more than a year ago, Einstein emergency physicians Melissa Kohn, MD, and Megan Stobart-Gallagher, DO, are still being recognized for their critical role in the man’s rescue. Drs. Kohn and Stobart-Gallagher performed an emergency amputation of the heavily sedated man’s foot, working in a cramped space under the train.
This time, it was Local 22 Philadelphia Fire fighters’ and Paramedic Union, which conferred on both doctors the union’s award for heroism. It was the first time the award was given to a non-firefighter.
Does it ever get tired?
“I don’t know if it gets tired,” says Dr. Stobart-Gallagher, pictured in the center with Dr. Kohn and Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel. “It’s definitely overwhelming. Melissa and I don’t like to be the center of attention, so it’s uncomfortable, but we do appreciate it because some of the things we do go unnoticed. It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Of all the people to have extended that appreciation, Stobart-Gallagher says it was especially humbling to have been honored by firefighters, whom she regards as true heroes.
“One of the most astonishing things was sitting in a room being recognized by people who do this every day,” Dr. Stobart-Gallagher says. “I didn’t feel like I belonged there. It didn’t seem like anything we did was heroic. I think it just speaks to how we do our job.”
Not Just Another Day at the Office
At the same time, working under such extreme conditions wasn’t exactly, well, another day at the office. “I was on the ground in my scrubs and my Dansko clogs, just like a normal shift,” Dr. Stobart-Gallagher recalls. “That’s definitely unusual—and I was pregnant. A lot of people didn’t know that. My family didn’t even know. When I do think back on it, it was definitely above my normal day-to-day. I was glad I was available and that I knew what to do in that situation.”
From the perspective of a Philadelphia firefighter with 38 years of experience, what Dr. Kohn and Dr. Stobart-Gallagher did that night in July 2015 fit the true definition of heroism.
Jerry Kots is a union trustee and coordinator of the union’s Firefighter Recognition Day. He retired as a captain.
“It’s a rare thing for us to call for medical help for an amputation,” says Kots. “In 38 years, I never had to call for anything like that. It was the middle of the night in July (2015), and temperatures were about 100 under the train, and the person was conscious the whole time. To keep someone calm enough in a situation like that … I can only imagine what they had to do with the train sitting on his foot to keep him calm and collected. To have these two women come in and take over a situation and have an outcome where this person survived, that was heroic.”
24-inches of Clearance
John "Jack Kelly," DO, interim chair of Emergency Medicine, says he couldn’t be more pleased.
What Drs. Stobart-Gallagher and Kohn did, he says, was difficult. They crawled under a train, lying on crushed stone, performing a critical procedure in high heat—and all with about 24 inches of vertical clearance in which to do their work.
“I knew that what they were doing was heroic,” Dr. Kelly says. “This honor was just a sign of the respect the firefighters have for these doctors.”
At the same time, he agrees with Dr. Kohn and Dr. Stobart-Gallagher—it’s gratifying to have the good work of emergency physicians recognized. He says it reflects well on Einstein’s emergency department. “Most of us who are emergency physicians are very used to the role we play in saving people’s lives,” Dr. Kelly says. “Most of the people whose lives we save don’t even know who we are. It’s just a part of our job to be able to save people with no expectation of recognition.”
As for Dr. Kohn and Dr. Stobart-Gallagher, the experience will never be completely forgotten. Dr. Stobart-Gallagher said that she and Dr. Kohn do sometimes reflect on what happened that night when they teamed up to save a man’s life. And there’s one thing they really want to know, but because of confidentiality laws, they don’t. Says Dr. Stobart-Gallagher, “Every once in a while, we’ll wonder how he’s doing.”