Phoenix firefighter beats the odds

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by Brandy Aguilar, Special Projects

azfamily.com

Posted on July 22, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 23 at 12:23 PM

PHOENIX – “We got dispatched on a house fire,” Phoenix Fire Captain Crystal Rezzonico said.

A routine fire call took a life-threatening turn for Rezzonico almost two years ago.

“The lights and sirens are going,” Rezzonico said. “Stopped at the red light and for some reason one person decided not to and hit my truck at 68 mph.”

The impact from the collision near Interstate 17 and the Dunlap overpass forced Rezzonico out of her seatbelt. She was ejected onto the street.

“He got to me. I was unconscious,” Rezzonico said. “The other kid caught up to him, even with a broken leg, and they were able to C-spine me and roll me over.”

The fast action by her crew along with being transported to the hospital within minutes saved her life.

“My family never left my side,” Rezzonico said. “They we’re holding my hand, talking to me, giving me strength and drive to hang in there.”

Rezzonico lay in a coma for nearly two weeks. She had a total of five brain surgeries. It wasn't until two months after the accident that she realized what had happened.

“When I woke up and was told that I would never be a firefighter again, that I could never be on the truck again, that I would never live alone again, for me that really angered me,” Rezzonico said.

After months of therapy, Rezzonico did learn how to walk and talk again. To this day she still gets help at Rehab Plus in Phoenix, not only with balance issues, but with a new goal: She's getting ready to compete in the World Police and Fire games next month.

“When she gets focused on a challenge, she has an amazing ability to not see the speed bumps along the road,” said Rezzonico’s strength and conditioning coach, Tim McClellan.

That also held true when it came to doing what she loves. The 21-year fire department veteran went back to work full-time.

“I am 100 percent,” Rezzonico said. “I am capable or I wouldn't be here, trust me. “If there was 1 percent of me that I doubted would ever risk our crew, clients, our customers, I would have retired.”

“If there was anyone that was going to go from almost dead to back to telling me what to do every day, it would have been her,” paramedic engineer Kim Packebush said.

Packebush has worked with Rezzonico for the last three years. She believes her friend is giving other traumatic brain injury survivors hope.

“At least they know now that no matter what the doctors tell them, that they’re recovery is basically up to them,” Packebush said.

“Look what happened just from working, just from rehab, just from wanting, just from support, Rezzonico said. “It's what it takes. I'm here because I want to help others and I love what I do.”

Rezzonico’s mission is now to help other traumatic brain injury survivors and they’re families.

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