How Lombard woman trapped in burning car survived

  • Barbara Seleski of Wheaton, right, comforts Cathy Donahue of Lombard during a Naperville City Council meeting in which Seleski was honored for helping save Donahue's life when a seizure while driving caused her to crash.

      Barbara Seleski of Wheaton, right, comforts Cathy Donahue of Lombard during a Naperville City Council meeting in which Seleski was honored for helping save Donahue's life when a seizure while driving caused her to crash. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/16/2015 11:29 AM

Cathy Donahue of Lombard doesn't remember the moment her beloved convertible was ruined when she had a stress seizure and crashed at an intersection in Naperville.

But she's glad to have a new memory of meeting the woman who pulled her from the burning wreckage and saved her life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The moment came together for Donahue on Tuesday during a Naperville City Council meeting as Fire Chief Mark Puknantis recognized her rescuer with a fire chief's citizen award.

Barbara Seleski of Wheaton was honored for the help she gave about 7:30 a.m. Sept. 30 after Donahue veered off the side of Warrenville Road near Washington Street and flipped her 2006 Sebring, trapping her inside.

"If it wasn't for her actions and the actions of the other bystanders that were there on the scene, there's no telling what would have happened," Puknaitis said.

What did happen is Seleski diverted from her drive to her third day of work as a medical oncology nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville because she saw smoke coming from the corner of Warrenville and Washington, and she knew nothing should be burning at that intersection.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She joined three men -- including one on his way to an internship with the Naperville Fire Department -- who were deciding how to help Donahue as the car began to burn.

The decision of whether to remove the injured woman or wait for firefighters and paramedics to arrive with a brace or a stretcher was a tough one in the moment, said Seleski, 42.

"The fire started to spread to the other side of the car, so we had to" pull Donahue out, Seleski said.

The men worked to remove the convertible's top, then Seleski sneaked inside, wrapped up Donahue and helped her escape just before the flames became too much.

"It's a good thing we did," Seleski said.

To say Donahue agrees is the understatement of her lifetime.

The 52-year-old mother of a 22-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son says she remembers nothing after feeling stressed on her drive to work once she had dropped off her son.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Donahue said she's had seizures before, but ones caused by stress are rare for her. When she seized Sept. 30, she blacked out and wasn't aware of anything until after she'd had surgery to help repair injuries including a broken left clavicle and 10 fractured ribs -- eight on her right side and two on her left.

"Tonight was when I found out my car was on its side," she said Tuesday. "I don't remember anything until after the surgery."

After the procedure came two weeks of hospitalization at Edward and two weeks at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton. She's just now been given permission to go back to work part-time on Thursday for a Lisle company that produces gift jewelry shows, and she said she's apprehensive and grateful for the chance.

"I'm very thankful that I did not hurt or injure anyone else and that I can be here with my family," Donahue said.

Doctors originally told Donahue's kids they weren't sure their mother would survive. That she did is partly in thanks to Seleski, Puknaitis said, which is why he honored the nurse with the sixth fire chief's citizen award he's doled out this year.

"There can never be too many," he said.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.