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Coincidence or miracle?

Toronto, December 19, 2013

By Kendra Stephenson

Dr. Marco Garavaglia in Modena, Italy, with a National Alpine Cliff and Cave Rescue Corps helicopter during his time as an emergency responder and physician.
Dr. Marco Garavaglia in Modena, Italy, with a National Alpine Cliff and Cave Rescue Corps helicopter during his time as an emergency responder and physician.

Last summer Dr. Marco Garavaglia, a staff physician and anesthesiologist at St. Michael’s, was asked to present his research project on awake craniotomies at the Iran University of Medical Science.

After visiting Shoman, a region in northern Iran, Dr. Garavaglia and his guide considered the two routes they could take back to Tehran. Shoman and Tehran are separated by mountains and the only options were a busy highway or a more direct – but treacherous – winding road. They began their trek on the highway but a traffic jam forced them to take the more dangerous route to arrive in Tehran by morning.

“We were on this road for about 10 minutes when we witnessed a head-on collision with a Peugot and a bus,” said Dr. Garavaglia. “It was an ugly crash damaging both vehicles and the car was smashed into the mountainside.”

Everyone in the bus was OK, but the Peugot driver was pinned between his seat and the dashboard. Dr. Garavaglia jumped into action, assessed the driver and found he had a badly broken femur and possible rib and pelvis fractures. While others called an ambulance, Dr. Garavaglia and his friend lowered the back of the seat to have better access to the driver. He was sweating, sheet-white and losing consciousness – signs the driver was going into shock.

”I knew this man was in trouble and that he could die without medical attention,” said Dr. Garavaglia. All of a sudden the driver turned blue and lost his pulse.

Dr. Garavaglia immediately started chest compressions through the broken window of the car –wedged against the mountainside – while instructing his friend to hold the driver’s chin, allowing oxygen into his lungs.

“Everything happened so fast, it was like being in a movie,” said Dr. Garavaglia. “My training and instincts took over and I just did everything I could.”

After giving CPR for two minutes, the driver’s pulse came back and he started breathing. At the same time, the ambulance arrived and responders pulled the driver from the car within 10 minutes – alive.

In some Middle Eastern cultures there’s a religious figure called Azreal, the Archangel of Death. The people Dr. Garavaglia travelled with believe that Azreal came for the driver, but Dr. Garavaglia’s quick-thinking saved him and kept Azreal at bay.

Was it coincidence, luck or something else? However he got there, Dr. Garavaglia says he was just in the right place at the right time.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.