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A Rescue in Bethesda
Comments () | Published August 1, 2009

The lining of the bronchi normally is pink and smooth. Aiden’s was inflamed—swollen and blackened with soot particles that stuck to the walls of his airway, especially on his right side. She probed deeper into that bronchus and saw more soot particles in the upper lobe of the lung.

She performed the same procedure with Bricen and found even more soot in his bronchi. But Coleson’s scoping was the most worrisome. He had inhaled so much smoke that it coated parts of his airway like a black lining. The boys’ airways were too inflamed for Chaney to try suctioning out any of the soot particles.

The next 48 hours would tell a lot about how the boys would do.

When friends of Michael and Ami Susan heard the news that day, many dropped what they were doing and went to the hospital.

Doug Davenport, Aiden’s godfather, was in a meeting in Alexandria when his cell phone began ringing. He kept ignoring it until he saw an e-mail from his friend Nick Lewis, manager of public affairs for UPS: “Call me 911.”

Lewis had learned of the fire from his wife, Courtney, a close friend of Ami Susan’s who had heard of it at work from another friend. She went online and found news reports.

“There’s been a horrible fire at the Petrucellis’,” she told her husband. “Michael and the boys are badly hurt.”

Courtney Lewis told her staff in the marketing-and-communications department of Georgetown University’s Office of Advancement that she had to leave.

Doug Davenport called Lewis back; they rendezvoused and took Davenport’s car to Children’s.

David Ferris, a financial adviser, was a childhood friend of Michael’s—they’d grown up on opposite corners of the same street in Chevy Chase. As boys, they went fishing at Fletcher’s Boat House in DC’s Palisades, often walking the seven miles from Chevy Chase carrying cans of SpaghettiOs in their knapsacks. Both had attended Trinity College in Connecticut. Ferris got in his car and went first to Children’s Hospital and then to Washington Hospital Center.

Richard Latimer Jr., Bricen’s godfather, was also a childhood friend of Michael’s. They’d gone to St. Albans School together. Latimer was at a meeting in downtown Bethesda. When it ended around 2:30, he called his office and learned that several people had been trying to reach him.

Latimer drove to Washington Hospital Center, where he and other arriving friends found Michael shoeless, sooty, and dressed in green hospital scrubs. His hands had been cleaned of glass and wood splinters and rebandaged. He seemed lost. He coughed and had a hard time talking. Fire officials were there to take a statement from him.

From his gurney, Michael asked someone to call Children’s Hospital to ask about his kids.

“They are all there and being treated,” he was told. It was the first indication Michael had that the boys were alive.

David Ferris went to the house and retrieved some of Michael and Ami Susan’s belongings. He was escorted inside by a firefighter. Upstairs, the firefighter pointed to the children’s bedroom door, black on the outside and white on the inside.

“That closed door saved the kids,” the firefighter said, “but even with it shut, we were 30 seconds away from a triple fatality.”

Ferris looked at the soot-covered cribs and nearly broke down.

Ami Susan arrived at Children’s around dusk. Michael was still at Washington Hospital Center. A Children’s staffer took her to the ICU, where friends as well as Michael’s mother and aunt had gathered.

Ami Susan seemed amazingly calm. She thanked people for coming but wanted to see her sons. She met doctors Kurt Newman, chief of surgery, and pediatric surgeon Martin Eichelberger, a member of the Emergency Trauma and Burn Service, in a small conference room. They expressed their sympathies and told her they would be looking in on the boys. They explained they were in a “wait and see” situation with the triplets right now, who were sedated in the ICU.

“You really need to get some rest and take care of yourself,” Eichelberger told her. “It’s the best thing you can do right now.”

She wanted to see her children, but the doctors suggested she not see them alone. Ami Susan asked Courtney Lewis to go with her.

The children were in separate ICU rooms. Ami Susan went first to Aiden’s room, where, as with the other boys, a nurse was stationed at his bedside around the clock. Ami Susan held herself together as she looked at him, soot smudges on his face, through an array of IV lines, tape, tubes, and monitors. Besides being temporarily paralyzed and in medically induced comas, the boys were being administered the sedative agent Atavan and morphine for pain.

Ami Susan reached in, stroked Aiden’s sooty hair, and told him how proud she was of him, how much she loved him. The boy stirred and opened his eyes. They were bloodshot, and tears came pouring out. 

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/01/2009 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles