When Chris Trokey was born in 1986, he weighed just 3.2 pounds. Doctors at his Southern California hospital gave him a 50-50 chance of long-term survival. For one of those doctors, that just wasn’t good enough. The pediatrician who worked through the night to save Trokey’s life had no way of knowing that work was an investment in his own long-term survival.
Almost 30 years to the day that Dr. Michael Shannon saved Chris Trokey, Trokey, who became a paramedic, pulled Shannon from a burning vehicle after a catastrophic accident.
When Trokey was born, Shannon had been a pediatrician for almost a decade. He became a doctor and began his practice in 1973 because he had spent much of his childhood in doctor’s offices, suffering from ailments such as asthma, a hernia, and appendicitis.
“I was in the doctor’s office quite a bit. My parents seemed to like him, so I thought that would be a good thing to do,” he recalled in an interview with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County when he retired. He chose pediatrics, he joked, because “children don’t judge you, and their charts were really thin.”
On March 29, 2011, Shannon was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway near Southern California’s Dana Point when a semitruck T-boned his car. Pinned underneath the big rig, Shannon’s vehicle quickly caught fire. All Shannon saw was a flash of white; all he heard was shattering glass.
In less than two minutes, Orange County firefighters and paramedics from Engine 29 arrived on the scene. They came upon a mangled, burning wreck. The fire wasn’t out of control, but firefighters knew the vehicle might explode at any time.
Inside the vehicle, the fire was beginning to burn Shannon’s legs, but he couldn’t escape the wreck. Shannon knew he was badly hurt, but he was unable to free himself. As the inside of the SUV began getting hotter, he kept his cool, telling the rescue crew he was inside and giving them his status.
On the scene that day was Orange County Fire Authority paramedic Chris Trokey. Trokey, by then an emergency medical technician for eight years, was coming to the end of his shift. The crew of Engine 29 had been working all night but were luckily in the truck and ready to go when the call came through.
As the fire engine crew fought the car fire, Shannon began to feel his shoes melting into his skin. He called to the crew using the Jaws of Life to free him that he needed the hose. They gave it to him, and the doctor put the fire out inside the car. Outside the car, they were still fighting the engine fire. Twenty minutes later, they pulled Shannon out of harm’s way and took him to nearby Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach.
Trokey called ahead to the hospital to give the emergency department trauma team the heads-up. As he reported the name of the patient, it sparked something in his memory. He wondered if the man in the SUV was the same doctor who had stayed up with him during his first days on earth to make sure he saw the next 30 years.
The future paramedic was born in June 1981, 10 weeks early. At 3.2 pounds, baby Chris could fit in the palm of Shannon’s hand. He and his mother had to be taken by ambulance from Mission Hospital to the medical center at the University of California Irvine’s neonatal intensive care unit, 25 miles away.
The Trokeys were ultimately released from the hospital, but their medical troubles were far from over. Just weeks after being born, baby Chris caught an unexplained fever and was rushed back to the hospital. Dr. Shannon stayed with the baby until he was in the clear. Shannon would serve as Trokey’s pediatrician until Trokey’s teen years.
Attending to Shannon while the ambulance rushed to the hospital, Chris Trokey began to recall the man in the back of the ambulance more clearly.
Shannon’s injuries included a perforated intestine, second- and third-degree burns on his feet, and glass shards embedded throughout his body. His injuries required 45 days of recovery, and two of his toes had to be amputated. The men of Engine 29 visited the doctor the day after the lifesaving operation.
Trokey and Shannon now reunite each year on the anniversary of the car accident that saw a paramedic return the favor for the doctor who saved his life. Trokey’s son, Porter Trokey, was born in 2015, and Shannon served as Porter’s pediatrician for two years, until the doctor retired in 2017.