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The Unsung Hero who saved her from a devastating car crash

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Time now for My Unsung Hero, our series from the team at Hidden Brain. My Unsung Hero tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Thea Rhiannon. One hot afternoon decades ago, Rhiannon was driving her old VW bus down the highway when she rolled down her window to let in some fresh air. Her car registration paper blew off the sun visor and onto the floor. As she leaned down to get it, she accidentally pulled the steering wheel to the left.

THEA RHIANNON: And when I sat back up again with my eyes faced forward, I had drifted into oncoming traffic. In panic, I overcorrected. My van rolled three times and flung me onto the asphalt. You were driving behind me that day. You saw the accident and stopped to help. You were there when I came to, lying in the middle of the road, in shock and bleeding from a train wreck of injuries. I remember you as a man in his late 20s maybe, gentle manner, soothing voice, kind hands. If you told me your name, I'm sorry, but I don't recall it. I do recall you telling me you were a medical student. You stayed with me until the ambulance got there. You covered me with a blanket and gave me emergency first aid, including apparently putting a tourniquet on my left arm above where I'd mangled it so badly.

As reality cut in, I looked you in the eye and said, I really F'd myself up, didn't I? At the hospital in Vallejo, the ER doctor spent hours picking all the shards of windshield out of my arm, then installing three dozen stitches. One of them told me the next day that if not for the tourniquet, I'd almost certainly have bled to death before the paramedics arrived.

If by some serendipity you see or hear this story and recognize yourself, thanks for your massive gesture of kindness and compassion. I'm sorry it took me four decades to say that. The idea of making an unsung heroes recording didn't occur to me until recently, when someone dear to me died unexpectedly, reminding me once again how fleeting life can be. I will always live with these ragged scars etched into my forearm, but I live because of you.

As for any other Good Samaritans, please consider this a pay-it-forward note of appreciation from the strangers you helped who, for whatever reason, couldn't thank you themselves.

SHAPIRO: Thea Rhiannon lives in Santa Rosa, Calif. You can find more stories like this on the My Unsung Hero podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.