The Circle of Life

It was March 29, 2011. Michael Shannon was off for a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway near Dana Point, about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles. But this joyride wasn’t about to end well. A tractor-trailer truck (also called a “semi”) crashed into Shannon and his SUV. 

It wasn’t an accident that one simply walks away from. As Reader’s Digest reported, “Shannon remained conscious during the collision. In the quiet afterward, his first thought was that he was alive. His second thought was that he had to get out—fast. He sensed something burning. His legs and feet, wedged beneath the crumpled dashboard, felt hot. But he was pinned.” The car was ablaze and Shannon himself was stuck inside, his legs on fire. And he had no way of calling for help. Shannon probably shouldn’t have survived

But his bad luck was about to turn better. A team of two county firefighters and two paramedics based in Dana Point — Paramedic Engine 29, if you’re interested — were on their way back from another call. Two minutes after the crash — far sooner than help could be dispatched even had Shannon been able to call 911 — they were on the scene of the accident and helping free Shannon from the wreck. The paramedics broke out the Jaws of Life and extracted Shannon from the vehicle while other firefighters worked to put out the fire. They had Shannon air-lifted to a hospital, where he spent the next 45 days undergoing treatment. The crash cost Shannon two toes, which had to be amputated, but he otherwise — miraculously — survived and recovered.

And in a strange way, he had himself to thank.

Orange County paramedic Chris Trokey was one of the heroes of the day, helping rescue Shannon from the fiery crash. And while Trokey didn’t know it until he arrived at the hospital and learned his rescuee’s name, it turned out that they had met before — 25 years earlier, just have Trokey was born. As KTLA reported, “Trokey was just 3.2 pounds at birth, and doctors had initially given him a 50/50 chance at surviving.” But Trokey’s pediatrician at the time “helped save his life, staying with the infant around the clock until his health improved and he was stable.” That pediatrician? Dr. Michael Shannon.

Trokey and his family long credited Dr. Shannon for saving the future paramedic’s life, and as coincidence would have it, he the once-premature baby was able to repay the favor. 

They’ve made a habit of keeping in touch since, per Readers’ Digest, “every year on the anniversary of the car accident, the two men meet for a meal.” And more importantly, Trokey is now a father to a young boy. His son’s pediatrician? Dr. Shannon.

Bonus fact: The 2005 movie “Batman Begins” (a good but underrated movie, and a worthy lead-in to the excellent “The Dark Knight”) features a redesigned Batmobile, one that — before the movies came out — was unrecognizable. That caused a strange problem during filming. In 2004, while the heavily-armored, low-profile car was brought out onto the streets of Chicago for a test shoot, most fans just stood by and gawked at the automotive wonder. But one fan — drunk — panicked. And then he sideswiped Batman’s ride.  As star Christian Bale would later recount, “[he] said he got so panicked when he saw the car that he thought aliens were landing, and he put the pedal to the metal.”

From the Archives: Thirty Minutes or Less: Paramedics and pizza.