Sometimes it takes 45 years to appreciate a life-saving miracle.
It was 1976.
Rick Thomas had just taken a job at the New York Power Authority and purchased a Pontiac Formula Firebird to celebrate his new found prosperity.
He was bowling in the NYPA League at Frontier Lanes in Lewiston. At the end of the night, Thomas was headed home along Lewiston Road when he lost control of his car not far from Irving Drive.
“I might have had a couple drinks in me,” Thomas recalls of the Feb. 18, 1976 crash.
The car slipped along a retaining wall for 300 feet before catapulting onto Robert Moses Parkway.
Thomas was ejected. A nurse from Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital, Sandra Switzer witnessed the car and stopped. When she opened her car door, she found Thomas at her feet. He had been thrown clear of his vehicle.
Switzer, of Lewiston, says she had just finished a 3-11 shift at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital.
Thomas had forgotten about the entire thing until his sister Kathy Williams shared a news clipping with him. He decided to research Switzer and discovered she is still alive and living in Lewiston.
They reunited last week.
“She told me what she saw and what happened,” Thomas said. “She was there for 15 or 20 minutes before help. I was not in good shape.”
Thomas said he had 4 broken ribs and a crushed lung. His kidneys were failing and he was dead on arrival at the hospital. Somehow, he survived. Five months later he made it back to work.
Doctors started preparing his twin-brother Michael, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2005, for a kidney. Somehow, Thomas said his kidney’s started working again.
Whole parts of his memory were gone.
“I didn’t remember my family or who I was,” Thomas said. “My last memory was I left bowling alley.”
Thomas advanced to become a millwright and maintenance resource management for NYPA. He retired in 2012. He married and had two sons, Richard J. II who works for the department of Homeland Security and Alexander J. who is IT manager for Smokin’ Joes.
“It was a long time ago,” Switzer recalls. “We were short staffed. All I saw was flashing lights and when I opened my door, there he was on the ground, seizing.
“At that time of night there is no one around. I put my coat over him to protect his airway.”
An ambulance came and took Thomas to the hospital.
Switzer, who would later be widowed from her first husband, arrived home shaken only to be even more shaken by bad news her husband had received that day about a close family friend.
Switzer said she remarried. Her career moved from Memorial to the State Department of Health working in epidemiology and even some time teaching classes at the University at Buffalo.“I was surprised,” she said. “Until I saw the article I had forgotten all about it.”