Location: Altoona, Pennsylvania
Date: September 2, 1991
On September 2, 1991, parents and children were sharing a final afternoon of fun before the end of summer at Lakemont Amusement Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
During 17-year-old Chris Whitfield's last day at his summer job as a ride attendant for the Little Leaper kiddie roller coaster, Sheri Danella's daughter, Lindsay, had saved one of her favorite rides for last. After setting her up, Chris got her and a few other kids to ride on the Little Leaper.
After one successful ride, Lindsay pleaded with her mother to do one last one before heading out. Chris started the ride, but the train didn't catch on the chain. So he pulled it forward to get it to do so, but his right foot was on the railing. Then he slipped down and the train caught on the chain, dragging him with it while Lindsay screamed out in horror. After Sheri saw the accident, she rushed down as Chris yelled out to stop the ride. She did so in desperation as he was in pain.
Kevin Holland and his father were on the way to meet with his wife and son on the carousel when he heard a couple of screams and Sheri's screaming words, "My baby! My baby!". He rushed to the scene to find what was going on and went around the ride. Once he climbed over the fence, he could see that Chris' right leg was mangled between his knee and foot as he got the seat belt off Lindsay while a bystander got her down. As Sheri got to Lindsay, Kevin saw that the ground was covered in blood and Chris was wrapped around the coaster car. Kevin pressed into Chris and he and the bystander held him down. While slowly bringing him to the ground, Kevin prevented Chris from seeing his mangled leg. "What was left of his leg was next to his hip. I couldn't afford to have him see that because if he did, I thought he wouldn't be as calm anymore," Kevin stated.
As Kevin told everyone nearby to get everything that was needed to help Chris, he noticed that there was blood still coming out rapidly. Remembering what he learned in health class in high school, Kevin used what he could, including his own shirt, to apply a tourniquet on Chris' leg and pressed as hard as he could on what was left of it. He was asking Chris questions about his life to make sure he was coherent as everyone gathered what they can find to save his life.
Meanwhile, park paramedic Nancy Felton was the first rescue worker on the scene. She could see that the area between Chris' knee and foot was nothing. She knew that he was bleeding to death, but could also see that bystanders did great things to help him, despite the gruesome injury on his leg. "I kept asking them, 'Are you okay on what you're doing and seeing?' I asked them a couple of times and they all said yes," Felton stated.
As Sheri sat next to Chris' shoulder and held his hand to comfort him, Kevin and the others still worked on him. When he asked Kevin if he was going to lose his leg, Kevin didn't know how to answer that, and reluctantly lied to him, saying that he was going to be fine. "That was tough for me to do because I'm not used to doing that to people," he admitted.
Within 10 minutes of the accident, paramedic Dave Cooper and his partner arrived. Once they got prepared and put him on the gurney, Kevin held Chris' hand and let him go as the ambulance took off.
By the time Chris arrived at Mercy Hospital, his blood pressure was dangerously low. Dr. Predict Swain took charge of his care as he and his staff poured blood into his system and found the bottle of it dripping on Dr. Swain's pants. Then he said to clasp the arteries, and Chris' blood pressure bottomed out.
Chris' parents, Kurt and Bonnie Whitfield, were at a family birthday party when they received a call from the hospital about his injury. When they arrived, Bonnie saw that there was one shoe on the floor, and Chris was covered up. Dr. Swain told her and Kirk that he had a bad injury on his leg.
The helicopter came to take Chris to the trauma unit at Conemaugh Memorial Hospital. Dr. Swain took his parents to see him before going to the helicopter. "I'm not really religious, but I believe in God. I asked him, 'He's 17. Give him a chance. If he can give him his leg back, he can have my life,'" Kurt stated.
Chris was then transported to Conemaugh Memorial Hospital 40 miles away, but they couldn't save his leg there, so they had to amputate it.
After around two and a half days, Kevin went to see Chris in order to know things. When they escorted Chris to the hallway, Kevin went over and looked down at him. Chris started to cry as he looked at Kevin and told him that he saved him. They then held hands, and Kevin just said, "I was just there."
Eight months later, Chris is adjusting to the use of an artificial leg. "The doctors and the paramedics did a great job, but I wouldn't have made it that far if it wasn't for Kevin," he stated. "If this is the only way to be his friend, I'd rather not know him. But it allowed us the opportunity to become friends and what we went through is what bonded us," Kevin admitted.
The investigation conducted by state and federal agencies determined the Little Leaper to be safe. "No one knows a quiet moment to step on somebody's life like this. To see a mangled foot and put a person on that, it takes a lot of courage to do that. They're the greatest heroes than sending someone to space," Dr. Swain stated.