It wasn’t a five-alarm fire that Station 107 responded to 36 years ago, but it did send five men to a near fatal accident on Flowerpark Drive in Canyon Country. A day before her 13th birthday, Christine Hermann lay in the middle of the street, knocked unconscious and bleeding from her ears after being hit by a speeding car in her own neighborhood. Those first responders in 1982 went on to many years of service in the fire department, never knowing if Hermann had survived. It’s a fact she wanted to do something about, and she did it last month.
The firefighters were each invited to a luncheon at Fire Station 107 on Soledad Canyon Road, where Hermann could communicate her gratitude to them and present them with a copy of a book she wrote about her life since that day.
“My story was not complete until I could thank you,” a teary Hermann said to the three men who attended, while current firefighters and television media looked on. “This was the highest priority, because 36 years had passed … and it’s so dear to my heart to be able to thank these men.”
Speaking into KTTV reporter Susan Hirasuna’s microphone, Hermann was able to thank them in front of a wider public audience. The first responders that helped her 36 years ago were: Captain Pete Casamassima, firefighter paramedic Jim Bettencourt, firefighter paramedic Gary Dellamalva, engineer Terry Butler and firefighter Rich Ward. (Butler and Ward could not attend the luncheon.)
Hermann’s memoir, entitled “Because It Didn’t Kill Me,” tells about her experience emerging from a coma and living with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. As cathartic as it was authoring the book, Hermann wasn’t done until she completed this final chapter: meeting the men who saved her.
“It’s amazing. I’m just blown away that this meeting is actually happening,” she said. “I didn’t expect it was going to be that formal. … I actually wanted to just thank them and meet them. Gary Dellamalva told me, ‘We learned in training when a patient is bleeding out of their ears that it’s usually really grave and they’re probably not going to make it.’”
Because they spent years responding to calls, two of the firefighters didn’t specifically remember Hermann’s incident until last year, when they were contacted to meet her. Except for Dellamalva.
“I remembered it vividly because I was new,” he said, stating several times that the seriousness of the accident left him assuming her prognosis was likely to be poor. “I didn’t know the outcome. I didn’t want to know.”
“When I came out of the coma I didn’t realize what happened to me,” Hermann explained. “In research for my book, documents said when people have TBI (traumatic brain injury) they remember what they could do before the injury.”
Hermann could recall, and she wanted to quickly return to her activities, which included horseback riding, gymnastics and soccer. She had trouble accepting her limitations, and even tried to escape from one of her hospital stays.
“I had it all planned out in my mind,” she said. “I got out of my bed, I was crawling down the hall, and the nurse found me.”
Her reason for writing the book was to make others aware of the lifelong limitations a victim of TBI experiences.
“For a lot of people with TBI, the physical injuries heal, but the cognitive ones remain,” she said.
Hermann has been denied disability because her handicaps aren’t evident. She has a bachelor’s degree from Point Loma Nazarene University and a master’s degree from California State University, Northridge. She became a teacher, which makes her look good on paper, but that’s where her injuries held her back.
“Substituting was easy – I’d just follow the lesson plans,” she said. “They were already organized for me.”
But she lacks the organizational skills to handle her own classroom. “Here I am, 48 years old,” Hermann said. “I’d like to be in a career I could do professionally, but my brain can’t organize. … I’m now working at a grocery store and writing my books.”
She’s actually working on her fourth children’s book. It’s a project she can more easily concentrate on completing, now that the last chapter of her memoir is done – showing her gratitude to the first responders who saved her life.
“I’m glad I got to thank them,” Hermann said. “They ‘re taken for granted. They play such an important role. They save lives and they help dreams come true.”