Dozens of professionals saved life of Snohomish girl

SNOHOMISH — They weren’t going to let April Lutz die that day.

Not the Snohomish High School students who rushed to her aid. Not the Snohomish paramedics who decided the 14-year-old was too hurt to wait for a helicopter flight to Seattle.

Not the skilled Everett surgeons and nurses who opened the girl’s chest and began operating on her damaged heart in the emergency room. Not the relatives and friends who filled the hospital, offering their prayers.

April could have died that day.

Dozens of people came together, giving all they had to make sure she didn’t.

“She had an angel sitting on her shoulder guiding her, and us, through this whole thing,” Snohomish Fire Capt. Jason Leighty said Friday. “It was an amazing outcome given the horrible circumstances she found herself in that bathroom that morning.”

April was stabbed multiple times Monday while she and her childhood friend, Bekah Staudacher, were getting ready for class.

The alleged attacker is another student, a 15-year-old girl who told police that she planned to stab someone when she packed two knives in her backpack before leaving for the high school.

The girl, suspended briefly last school year because of threats of violence, now is charged with attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault. She remained in juvenile lockup Friday on $1 million bail.

Police don’t believe the girl knew April or Bekah.

Doctors on Friday described April’s injuries, for the first time publicly. The girl’s parents, Randy and Sue Lutz, listened in. They held hands as the medical experts explained just how close they came to losing their daughter.

April sustained about 13 stab wounds, doctors said. The most serious entered through her left shoulder. The large kitchen knife pierced her lung and heart. April’s heart stopped three times before doctors could stabilize her.

Fewer than a third of the people who are stabbed in the heart survive, said Dr. William Finley, a surgeon at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

That April survived her particular wounds is remarkable, Dr. Joseph Austin explained. The blade not only hit her heart, it came close to severing a major artery. Just four millimeters more to the right or left, and the girl almost certainly would have died at the scene, Austin said. Just a little more pressure behind the thrust and she likely would have bled to death before the damage could be repaired, he said.

“She’s my miracle baby,” Sue Lutz told reporters.

Randy and Sue Lutz said they are so grateful for the students, teachers, paramedics and medical staff who have taken care of their daughter.

From the moment of the attack, the quick actions and decisions of others helped the girl live, Snohomish Deputy Fire Chief Ron Simmons said.

Her friend Bekah, 15, tried to stop the assault. She was slashed and stabbed but summoned help.

Other students also rushed to the girl’s aid. Benjamin King held her in his arms and pressed paper towels to her wounds until paramedics arrived, the family said. A trio of seniors, all football players, confronted the attacker. One tossed the knife out of her reach.

Doctors also commended the Snohomish firefighters who first responded to the scene. They had April in the emergency room 24 minutes after they reached her, bleeding on the bathroom floor. The paramedics called off a helicopter that would have carried her to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, the region’s trauma hospital. Instead, they began racing toward Providence.

“She would have died on the football field in the back of an ambulance,” Leighty said, referring to where the helicopter would have landed to pick her up.

The Snohomish paramedic came to the hospital on Friday with a pink teddy bear tucked under his arm, hoping to speak with April for the first time since Monday’s attack.

The girl could have been one of their own kids, he said. He and more than half the crew who rushed to her aid have children who are students at Snohomish High.

Leighty worked to keep the girl’s heart beating as they headed across the U.S. 2 trestle into Everett. He knew only surgeons could save her.

At the emergency room, doctors determined there wasn’t time to prep April for the operating room, Dr. Kimberly Costas said. They had to open up her chest and immediately relieve pressure from the blood that was squeezing around her heart.

At one point, Austin, a cardiac specialist, put his hand into a wound in the girl’s heart to stanch the bleeding as other doctors worked to stabilize her.

In all, six doctors operated on April.

She also had stab wounds to her arm, leg and neck, Finley said. He has a 14-year-old daughter of his own. Monday’s outcome gives him goose bumps.

April’s prognosis is good. When she awoke after the surgeries, the girl asked for two things: her iPod music player and her cellphone.

There’s no evidence April has any permanent damage from when her heart stopped beating.

She might be going home today.

April has a good strong, healthy heart, Austin said.

So do the people who made sure she lived.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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