BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Mercy Flight hanger at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport was the site of an emotional reunion Thursday evening, when a young woman met the crew who saved her life almost seven years to the date of when she was accidentally shot.
Pilot Mike Setaro, Flight Nurse Tom Sampson, and Paramedic Daniel Parr were scrambled on July 31, 2010 to Allegany County where Maria Territo was critically wounded while on a camping trip.
Territo was playing with some other children when one of them, a small boy, discovered a handgun which unbeknownst to him was left loaded.
The boy began playing with the weapon when it discharged.
The bullet shattered Territo’s femur, and pierced her femoral artery, causing her to nearly bleed to death.
“The injury she sustained threatened her life,” recalled Parr. “And even if she survived the initial injury, she could have lost her leg because of where the injury was."
Flown to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, Territo was treated for about a month before being discharged.
However, by then, she had developed a nerve disorder called Reflex Sympathy Dystrophy or RSD which causes a non-stop pain cycle. Territo was taken to Boston’s Children’s Hospital where she spent months more, before being released to an outpatient rehabilitation center and endured countless hours of therapy in order for her to be able to walk again.
Now a woman of 20, she wished to thank the flight crew whose actions were so important in not only saving her life, but indeed setting it on a new path.
Much to their delight, she informed them that she has obtained a degree to be an Emergency Medical Technician, which she said was “100%” due to her experience.
"Because of what I went through, it made me want to go help other people," Territo told WGRZ-TV.
"To finally be able to see these people, and see the positive outcomes, and to receive their thanks kind of closes a loop for us, and makes it very gratifying and worthwhile,” said Sampson.
Added Parr, "most times we take our patients and we discharge them and get ready for the next flight or call… we don't ever hear back about anything because of all the HIPAA laws.”
Mary Friona-Celani, Maria’s eternally grateful mother, had tears in her eyes when she told the crew how important it was to have the reunion.
"I don't know how to ever thank you,” she said.
“The surgeons and the doctors …we were with them for weeks and months, and I was able to hug them and say thank you for saving my daughter. You guys …were like these three guys that we remembered a little bit about... and in my head I imagined you since then, as having angel wings. You’re like heroes,” she told the appreciative crew.
In the wings of the reunion was Maria's older sister Alexa, who though only 14 at the time, took measures before emergency personnel could—by taking paper towels and holding Maria’s leg tightly together, in a valiant effort of her own—to stop the bleeding, and save her sister’s life.
You might not believe in angels.
But there's a grateful family which does.
And they believe you'll find them just where you might expect them to be.
Wearing their orange uniforms
Up in the sky.
Click on the video player to watch our story from Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalists Franco Ardito and Scott May.