ST. LOUIS - When Dr. Fangxiang Chen described what he did December 5, he was brief.
“We just move as quick as we can.” Chen said. “That’s our job. To save people’s lives.”
Barbara O’Connor puts it another way.
“He holds a very special place in my heart. And I am so thankful for him every single day,” she said.
Chen, a neurosurgeon with St. Anthony’s Medical Center, treated Ryan O’Connor, the Arnold Police Officer who was shot in the line of duty.
He is among the individuals recognized at the East Central Region Life Saving Awards Wednesday afternoon.
The event honors exceptional efforts during life-saving emergencies. Various fire protection districts, medical professionals, police departments and others were honored for their work in the past year.
In all, teams involved in more than a dozen saves were noted for their work.
In the case of the O’Connors, emergency responders were not only saving a life – they were saving one of their own.
“A lot of what was said is, ‘Hang on, we’re taking care of you. Keep fighting. We’re there for you,’” Andrew West said. West is the Deputy Chief of the Rock Township Ambulance District.
The O’Connor rescue marked an emotional, rewarding effort for those involved, especially considering the initial circumstances.
O’Connor had been shot in the back of the head by a burglary suspect he was transporting to the Arnold Police Department.
The original call came out as a wreck into a fence, West said.
But when he arrived on the scene, he said the situation “looked dire.”
Dispatchers, firefighters, police officers, EMTs, doctors, nurses and other professionals sprang into action.
Dr. Chen is credited with removing the bullet that had shattered in O’Connor’s brain. He also helped treat a ruptured artery.
The O’Connor family’s journey has since taken him to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, where he has received specialized medical treatment. His remarkable recovery has included the ability to breathe on his own and perform various exercises. He recently began to walk with assistance.
“It unbelievable to see where he is now, versus what we saw, that initial arrival to him,” West.
More than two dozen people stood by Barbara O’Connor’s side as she thanked them on stage Wednesday in the banquet room at Orlando Gardens.
“It’s really hard to look back and remember where we’ve started because Ryan’s come so far. And seeing all these people who saved him. It just brings tears to my eyes. I’m just so thankful to be able to be with them,” she said.