Lexi, the Shymanskis’ five-year-old daughter, had been taught what to do in an emergency by her parents, knowing that it could save her life. They had no idea it would also save her mother and newborn brother…
Angela Shymanski was cruising along. It was 8.30 a.m., and the children had been fed. Their eight-seater car was full of gas and loaded with all the essentials for a road trip: a pop-up tent, toys, and snacks for five-year-old Lexi, and a pink blanket and seven days’ worth of clothes for ten-week-old Peter—all of which had already been worn. Angela reasoned that it didn’t matter. It was 26 degrees Celsius in central Alberta, Canada, the warmest June on record, so her baby would be better off wearing nappies for the eight-hour drive home to Prince George, British Columbia.
The 28-year-old has previously driven these 500 miles by himself. She had college pals all throughout Alberta, as well as an older sister who lived in Calgary and a sister-in-law who lived in Sylvan Lake. Travis, an oil refinery instrumentation mechanic, couldn’t make the week-long vacation, but Angela, a swimming and first-aid instructor was excited to show off baby Peter to her pals.
Lexi, too, had an important vacation planned. The 100-day countdown to nursery began the morning they left Prince George, on June 1, 2015. Lexi had seen gorillas at the Calgary Zoo, picnicked with relatives, gotten dizzy on amusement park rides, and built sandcastles at the beach by the end of the week, thanks to Angela’s efforts.
Angela unintentionally missed her first turnoff while driving along Icefields Parkway and, rather than loopback, decided to continue west on a slightly longer but more spectacular route through the Rockies. If it hadn’t been for a 30-minute section of road work, the time wasted would have been minor. Peter, who was now screeching in the back-facing car seat next to Lexi, was irritated by the frequent pauses and starts. Angela thought to herself, “This calls for a nursery rhyme.” She placed a CD in the player and hoped for the best.
Both kids were slumped in their vehicle seats in no time.
Angela accelerated to just below the 60-mile-per-hour speed limit after she was finally out of the construction zone. Angela opened the window, hoping the blast of breeze would keep her attention while she searched for a rest stop, as the hum of the road and the warmth of the sun, along with the lulling music, soon began to have a calming effect.
Angela closed her eyes for a brief moment.
Lexi had learned the most crucial lesson of her young life exactly one year before.
“‘Wake up, mum!’ Lexi yelled as she saw her mother. ‘Wake up!’ says the narrator.”
Family worship night is observed by the Shymanskis, as it is by many Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were prepping Lexi for a potential future disaster on this particular night—a cousin of Travis’s had recently lost his home to a flood, and they wanted to be prepared in case something similar happened.
The young Shymanski family stuffed a duffel bag with of water bottles, canned food, a first-aid kit, cash, CPR masks, spare clothes, and toys into a closet near the front entrance.
Then they showed Lexi the smoke alarms, telling her to go to the driveway if they started beeping. Don’t look for anything or anyone; just ask for assistance and don’t look back. To demonstrate, the three of them went barefoot half a mile to the next neighbor’s house, believing that dialing 911 would be impractical for a child with a limited vocabulary and understanding of geography.
Lexi took in everything she was told. A smoke alarm went off during dinner months later, revealing this. Lexi was sprinting to the driveway before Angela could reset it. She didn’t return the stare.
Lexi’s initial reaction was, “Whose fault was it that the electricity was turned off?”
It was a beautiful day only a few moments ago. It was now pitch black, her neck hurt, the automobile horn was roaring, and Peter was sobbing.
Lexi reached out to touch him but was stopped by a force field—her tent had flopped forward and popped open. The girl felt her baby brother’s hand as she probed around the thin canvas. Lexi reached for the doorknob, but it was hidden beneath a large white pillow—one of the side airbags that had obliterated all of the windows. She pressed her fingers against the pins of her five-point harness, as Mummy and Daddy had always done for her. Lexi was able to wriggle free of the straps and exit the car once they were unclipped, but the door was stuck when she pulled the handle.
Lexi slumped onto her side and kicked at the car door, which eventually flopped open, allowing sunshine to flood the vehicle.
That’s when she noticed her mother asleep in the front seat on a much larger pillow. She cried, “Wake up, Mum!” “Wake up!” says the speaker. Angela remained silent.
Lexi gazed over the side of the SUV and down a steep hill, which reminded her of the indoor rock-climbing gym she enjoyed visiting, but with boulders the size of beanbag chairs, trees, and no ropes. The enormous evergreen with which the truck had collided was the only thing protecting her family from rolling down the incline.
“Lexi pointed at the smashed SUV in the ditch. Jeremiah smashed his way down the mountain.”
Lexi would only glance down or back at that point.
Lexi’s flip-flops had blown off in the crash, but she felt no pain as she crawled through glass, pebbles, branches, and pine needles to the highway where her mother had fled. It was exactly how she’d planned.
When the Jiriks stopped for a roadside lunch, they were approximately halfway through their excursion.
They weren’t in a hurry since they’d elected to take the scenic route through Jasper National Park, which added two hours to their journey from Wasilla, Alaska, to Minnesota, where Loni and Jeremiah met and established their family. The couple, their three children, and their two dogs hopped back into the silver minivan for the final stretch once their bellies were full and their bodies were refreshed.
“Stop!” Loni shouted as soon as Jeremiah steered onto the highway. She pointed to a young blonde child in shorts and a tank top climbing out of the ditch about 15 yards away. The barefoot girl appeared out of nowhere, jumping up and down and waving her arms at passing cars. Jeremiah turned on his hazard lights and came to a halt.
“Help!” Lexi screamed as she dashed towards them. “My mother is in desperate need of assistance!”
The tree-lined path drew Jeremiah’s attention. There was no one else in the area. “Where’s your mother?” he inquired of Lexi. The boy pointed to a smashed SUV in the ditch. Jeremiah, an accomplished hiker who makes a job laying power lines at high altitudes, tore down the incline in his sandals without hesitation.
Lexi attempted to follow, but Loni persuaded her to stay. The girl’s neck was damaged and she was unable to move. Isaak, the woman’s oldest child, was summoned to aid, but she begged her daughters to remain behind because she didn’t want them to witness a potential disaster.
Jeremiah came racing down the slope just as Angela Shymanski was regaining consciousness. Her face was scratched and swollen when she gazed over at the stranger. “I’m such a moron,” she admitted. “I should’ve stopped sooner.” Over the booming of the automobile horn, he could hardly hear her words; the sound of the baby sobbing didn’t even register until Angela mentioned Peter.
The infant’s seat had become unattached and flipped forward, trapping Peter in his harness and leaving little space between the back of the steel-framed seat and the floor. Jeremiah unlatched the half-naked infant, covered him in his blanket, and climbed up to Loni, his free hand grasping the evergreen’s branches.
His wife had attempted to phone 911 but had been unable to do so due to poor coverage at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. She gave up and began flagging down passing cars; five whizzed by before a jeep eventually came to a halt.
Lise Lord, the driver, was on her way to Calgary for a meeting with her business partner, Rick Nowicki. Nowicki, 50, was a firefighter/emergency medical technician long before he turned to financial coaching. Despite the fact that it had been more than a decade since he’d been in a car accident, he recognized that whoever was still inside the vehicle needed to be stabilized.
Jeremiah reappeared with something wrapped in pink—a baby girl, he said to Loni before passing the child off before returning to Angela with the former firefighter in tow. Nowicki was about to make his way into the ditch when Jeremiah reappeared with something wrapped in pink—a baby girl, he said to Loni before passing the child off before returning to Angela with the former firefighter in tow.
Lexi, who had been resting on Isaak’s sweatshirt as the adolescent placed an icy bottle of water to her neck after a once-over from Nowicki, corrected, “That’s my brother!” Loni held the infant in her arms and rocked it. Peter would stop wailing every minute or so, stare into the sky with a frozen expression, and then screech again. Loni, a 16-year special education teacher, has witnessed this with her students and recognized it as seizures.
Angela was now sitting sideways down the embankment, trying to open the driver’s side door. She kept describing herself as a terrible mother. “Let’s not get into that,” Nowicki remarked. “Anyone could be affected.” He unlocked the door, moved aside the airbag, and showed Angela her children, eager to console her. Peter was in Loni’s arms at the road’s edge, while Lexi was in the care of Isaak and Lise.
Nowicki began going over the injury-assessment checklist after Angela had calmed down. Her chest had been injured by the seat belt, but the woman was also in excruciating pain in her lower back. “Are you able to move your hands?” Are you able to pinch your fingers together? “Wiggle your toes,” Nowicki said. Even though everything appeared to be working, he refused to let her go without a stretcher.
“To get up and down the embankment that Lexi had climbed alone and barefoot, the rescuers needed ropes.”
Instead, he asked Angela for her husband’s phone number, which he’d give to the first responders Loni had summoned with the help of a passing forestry worker’s satellite radio. Jeremiah was rummaging under the bumper for the battery cords while writing the digits on the dusty, cracked glass with his finger. He was scared the blazing vehicle would catch fire. He curled his hand around the hot wires and ripped them apart till the horn was cut off. The three of them waited for 20 minutes in stillness, with just the sound of birds chirping to break the silence until ambulance sirens pierced the silence.
To get up and down the embankment that Lexi had climbed alone and barefoot, the rescuers—paramedics and Royal Canadian Mounted Police—needed ropes.
Angela called Travis Shymanski as he was finishing his lunch at his desk, mumbling something about an accident and the kids being fine. The 29-year-old was on a jet to Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital in less than an hour, where his wife had been transported by helicopter. Angela had been resuscitated by physicians after going into shock at Seton General Hospital in Jasper. She was now conscious, but her brain, lungs, liver, and back had all been injured.
Angela’s status appeared to be slightly better twenty-four hours following the accident. She experienced chronic nerve damage in her left leg, appeared to have amnesia, and was told she’d never be able to swim, gymnastics, or run competitively again—but she might be able to walk. After being discharged, Peter, on the other hand, was having difficulty keeping his formula down. Doctors readmitted him and performed a CT scan to see if he had suffered any brain damage. Intracranial edema and bleeding were present in the newborn, which were treated with surgery. It was determined that he would be alright after a few days of stress.
Lexi’s hands and feet were covered in scratches and bumps as she refused to leave her father’s side. Travis, however, was concerned about the possible psychological strain and didn’t want his young daughter to spend any longer than necessary in the trauma unit, so he sent her away with his sister and went to get lunch for Angela and himself.
As he crossed the street outside the hospital, his phone rang. “Is this Travis?” said a man with a gravelly voice. Rick Nowicki was the one who remembered the number Angela had called out to him.
Nowicki, who lived in Hinton, 200 miles west of Edmonton, was in town for a business meeting. He was calling to see if he might deliver Angela flowers and a teddy bear for the little boy who had saved her family’s life.
Travis was unaware of Lexi’s contribution to her family’s survival. Angela had told him what Lexi had said—that his daughter had stepped out of the car and sought assistance—but he didn’t know the details of her bravery. Nowicki informed him, “She’s a remarkable little child.”
The Royal Canadian Humane Association invited the family back to Edmonton in November 2015. Lexi was to get a bravery medal from the charity.
During the awards ceremony, a reporter inquired about the child’s plans for the medal. She said she wanted to bring it to school for a show and tell. Lexi, on the other hand, changed her mind after she returned home to Prince George. Instead, she opted to bring baby Peter.