Six days after a violent crash along the Reagan Tollway left her injured and trapped in a wrecked SUV, Beth Wallace was reunited with the young woman who came to her aid.
In a tearful Wednesday afternoon meeting at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, the 23-year-old Des Moines, Iowa, resident thanked Holly Swaim for freeing her from a seat belt and holding her after the Aug. 26 crash.
"I am so happy she found me," said Wallace, who sat in a wheelchair as Swaim, 23, gave her a hug during a news conference at the Downers Grove hospital.
"God put me there at the right time for a reason," said Swaim, an Oak Lawn resident who attends Northern Illinois University. "A lot of other people were helping there, too."
The crash that first brought the two college students together happened about 10:20 p.m. while Wallace was a passenger in a Honda CRV that was traveling east on I-88 near Route 47, between Elburn and Sugar Grove.
Samantha Brant, the driver of the SUV, told Wallace she felt like she was about to faint and then passed out.
Brant said the last thing she remembers before losing consciousness was trying to stop the vehicle, which was in cruise control. "I couldn't see anything," the 22-year-old Des Moines resident said. "It was black."
Wallace tried to grab the steering wheel, but Brant was in the way.
"I couldn't get beyond her without undoing my seat belt," she said. "Thank God I didn't try to undo my seat belt."
She watched helplessly as the SUV went out of control, crossed the center median into oncoming traffic and slammed into the rear of a westbound semitrailer.
Swaim was driving back to NIU when she saw the aftermath and stopped to help. As she walked toward the wreckage, she heard Wallace calling for help. Wallace's seat belt was choking her and she couldn't get it off.
Using a pocket knife belonging to another passer-by, Swaim cut the seat belt and held Wallace's head up until paramedics arrived. During that time, Swaim said she just kept talking to Wallace to keep her mind off the pain.
"I remember she kept saying to me, 'You're alive, and you're going to be OK,'" said Wallace, who still has a mark on her neck from the seat belt. "She just kept saying we're going to be OK, and she just sat with me the whole time. I am so thankful that she was there. She really saved us."
Wallace and Brant both were injured during the crash.
Brant was taken to Provena Mercy Hospital in Aurora with non-life-threatening injuries. She was feeling well enough to attend Wednesday's news conference.
Wallace was transported via helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital with a broken leg and other non-life-threatening injuries. She was expected to be discharged on Wednesday and needs two weeks of rehabilitation.
Dr. James Cole, the trauma surgeon who treated Wallace, praised Swaim's actions.
"I'm inspired by what I've heard," Cole said to Swaim. "You did what so few people do nowadays. You helped when most people just keep driving by.
"I think that the care that you provided was more important than the care I provided," he added.
Hospital officials arranged Wednesday's meeting because Wallace had repeatedly asked about Swaim, and Swaim contacted the hospital wanting to pass along her well wishes to Wallace.
Now that they have been reunited, both women say they plan to keep in touch. "I have a new friend," Swaim said with a smile.