For many, the holiday season is a time to take stock of their lives and appreciate the people and things that help make it what it is.
One woman took this one step further by reaching out and thanking the first responders who literally saved her life in the aftermath of a serious freeway crash 2-1/2 years ago outside Livermore.
"I want to thank every single person and every single pair of hands that played a part in giving me every opportunity to recover from the accident," Marenna Ward said after reuniting with the emergency personnel last month.
Ward's life forever changed on Aug. 6, 2016 when, while riding on the freeway with her mother and sister to the San Francisco International Airport to catch a flight to Germany, their vehicle was involved in a near-fatal collision.
As the car was traveling on Interstate 580 over the Altamont Pass, a 4-foot metal beam flew off of a work truck and struck the vehicle traveling in front of Ward's car. The beam then flipped back and struck Ward in the face and left side of her head, causing massive head trauma and knocking her unconscious.
First responders from Paramedics Plus, Alameda County's 9-1-1 ambulance service provider, as well as crews from Livermore-Pleasanton and Tracy fire departments, quickly arrived and worked to try and stabilize Ward.
Within an hour of the collision, first responders removed Ward from the passenger seat and the car's other occupants, and then transported them to the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where Ward underwent life-saving neurosurgery.
"We knew we had a very critical patient and that we had to get on and off the scene quickly because time was a big factor," said Joe Fagaundes, paramedic for Paramedics Plus who was on-scene to help Ward. "It's amazing to see her today and to see good outcomes."
At Eden, it was found that Ward had a splintered fracture to the left temporal side of her head as well as facial trauma, resulting in a permanent traumatic brain injury (TBI), that she still copes with today.
Despite the extensive damage to her body, Ward was able to walk upright three days after surgery and was discharged three days after that to begin rehabilitation.
"One of the trauma nurses told my mom later on that I was 60 seconds away from not making it into surgery, so if you guys had not done what you did for me and the timing, I would not be here," Ward said about the first responders just over two years later.
Ward was able to meet with the first responders who saved her and not only thank them for their selfless and diligent care, but to also spread awareness of TBI -- a hidden injury that others may not be able to visibly see depending on the severity.
Today she continues to work hard to return to as much of a normal life as possible. She works at Starbucks and is enrolled in her second semester of college. Her goal is to become a registered nurse, putting herself into a position where she can help save others.
Paramedics Plus is the ambulance transport service for Alameda County, responding to approximately 146,000 calls every year, most of those alongside local fire services.
Capt. Brandt Jorgenson of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department acknowledged that many of the serious emergency calls do not have happy endings, and it is always a boost to morale to see one such as Ward's end on a happy note.
"We see a small glimpse of a person, which is typically at the worst time of someone's life and these things stay with us as much as they stay with the victim," Jorgenson said in a statement. "It's very fulfilling to see a tragedy come full circle, especially this time of year, and have such a wonderful outcome. It really helps us throughout the span of our careers."