Paramedic had 'no clue' helpful driver was Frist

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 1:50 a.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE - Paramedic Capt. Jeff Andrews knew that the man helping him keep a traffic accident victim alive was a doctor. But he didn't know the man was U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, the incoming majority leader who was a leading transplant surgeon before he became a politician.

The Republican lawmaker from Tennessee stopped just after Wednesday's accident, helping stabilize the survivors and determine who had the most serious injuries before rescue crews arrived.

''I had no clue who he was,'' Andrews said Thursday. ''He was just another bystander that had some training that was very beneficial.''

Frist was about 35 miles from Miami and heading east to a family vacation home when a sport utility vehicle going in the same direction rolled over after one of its rear tires blew out.

The tire was a Firestone Wilderness AT, a model that was recalled after it was found to be used on many SUVs involved in rollover accidents, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. John Bagnardi said. Investigators were checking to determine whether the tire was included in the batch Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. recalled, he said.

At least three of the six passengers were thrown from the vehicle, Bagnardi said. Police said an 11-year-old girl, Felicienne Kali, died at the scene. Her 14-year-old brother, Felix Kali, died Thursday at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.

Two of the injured were in critical condition Thursday - the dead children's mother, Stella Kali, 41; and their half sister, Shadia Rene, 20. The father, Jocelyn Kali, 40; and family friend Meme Chery, 33, were in fair condition. All of them are from Tampa.

Frist was most helpful in treating Stella Kali, Andrews said.

''She had a very difficult airway to manage,'' he said, with a lot of blood and other fluid making it hard for her to breathe. The senator, along with two other bystanders, a nurse and an off-duty paramedic, helped open her airway and suction it out, he said.

They treated the victims for about 20 minutes before paramedics arrived. Lt. Allison DeMarco said it was possible more victims would have died without their assistance.

The paramedics were so caught up in treating the survivors, they never got to thank Frist for his help.

''By the time we were cleaning everything up, they had already left,'' said DeMarco, referring to Frist and some of the other bystanders.

''As a doctor, my first instincts are to help, and I was privileged to offer my assistance today at the scene of this horrible accident,'' Frist said in a statement Wednesday. ''My heart goes out to this family which must face the start of the new year with this terrible tragedy.''

Frist's spokesman said the senator would have no further comment out of deference to the family.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Frist is a heart surgeon who founded Vanderbilt University's organ transplant center. He keeps a white doctor's coat in his car and dispensed medical advice during the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill.

Frist offered medical assistance to Strom Thurmond when the then-98-year-old senator collapsed on the Senate floor in 2001, and in 1998 rushed to aid victims of a gunman who opened fire in the U.S. Capitol.

In 1995, Frist revived a 60-year-old man who collapsed inside a Senate office building.

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