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Quick action by Aurora sergeant credited with saving lives

AurorPolice Sergeant Bill Rowley reunited with Abby EmmSchmidt after they were released from hospital last month. Rowley performed CPR Abby

Aurora Police Sergeant Bill Rowley reunited with Abby and Emma Schmidt after they were released from the hospital last month. Rowley performed CPR on Abby, 2, who was not breathing after she was involved in a serious car crash on her way to a pumpkin farm with her family.

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Updated: December 23, 2013 1:28PM

Sometimes, people are put on certain paths for certain reasons...and nobody knows why.

On Oct. 13, the paths of two Fox Valley families crossed, and nothing short of a miracle happened because of it.

Bill Rowley shouldn’t have been driving down Grove Road that morning. He should never have come upon that crash.

But he’ll be the first to tell you that it happened exactly as it was supposed to.

When he packed his family into the car that crisp, fall morning, the off-duty Aurora police sergeant’s mind was on his destination, not what would happen before he got there.

“The path I took that day, I would have never have taken,” Rowley said, talking about how fate might have intervened.

Rowley’s in-laws were in town so he decided to take the scenic route.

Meanwhile, Nick and Jessica Schmidt should have left an hour later. If the library hadn’t been closed, the proud parents would have been reading books with their two young daughters, instead of sitting at that intersection near Grove and Caton Farm Roads in an uninfcorporated area near Joliet.

They would have been snuggled up safely in each other’s arms, instead of on a pending path of destruction.

But, they’ll be the first to tell you, you can’t linger on these thoughts.

Both families were on their way to Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm in Joliet that morning when their two worlds inexplicably intertwined and changed forever.

“I was sent down that roadway for a reason,” Rowley said. “It’s an absolute miracle.”

Jessica Schmidt remembers the seconds before it happened.

Nick mentioned a song on the radio. Two-and-a-half-year-old Abby had just fallen asleep in the back seat.

Emma was reading an old library book, one she never got to return that morning when there was a crash.

As they pulled through the intersection— one with a four-way stop — the Schmidt’s minivan was struck by a pickup truck going nearly 60 mph. The driver was looking down at his GPS when it happened, Schmidt said.

The Schmidt’s van started spinning, and things got silent in Jessica’s head.

“I remember when we stopped, I thought, I have to turn around and let the girls know it’s okay,” Jessica said. “I turned around, and they both had blood coming from their noses.”

Both Abby, and Emma, 5, were unconscious. Abby was not breathing.

That is when chaos ensued.

Jumping to action

For Nick and Jessica, the faces are all a blur. People were everywhere, screaming and begging for help.

“Does anyone know CPR?” several people pleaded. And then, Rowley pulled up.

“I suppose when you’re working, you put on your uniform, you get in your squad car, and your mind is ready for anything,” Rowley said. But, this morning was different. This morning, Rowley had his 7-year-old son in the car, and was about to stumble upon a scene he won’t soon forget.

The off duty-officer, however, didn’t skip a beat. Instead, he sprung into action.

“We weren’t sure where he came from, or if he was even real,” Jessica said of the man who breathed life back into little Abby.

By the time the ambulance arrived, Abby was breathing. The prognosis, however, did not look good, Rowley said.

“I was fairly convinced that she hadn’t made it,” he said.

But, he had done all that he could. He watched both Abby and Emma get taken away, and then solemnly returned to his car to take his own son to the pumpkin farm the girls would never arrive at.

Rowley said Joliet police told him a few hours after the crash that the girl’s condition was unknown.

“I spent a good, solid week thinking she had died,” he said.

And, the Schmidts spent just as much time trying to figure out who the man was that made sure that didn’t happen.

Both girls were critically injured, but they were alive. They were taken first to Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, then airlifted to Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.

Emma’s ribs were broken. She sustained orbital, cranial and nasal fractures. Her lungs were bruised.

Abby had a broken jaw, a fractured skull, a broken clavicle, and bleeding on the brain. Her organs were lacerated, one lung had separated from her chest, the discs in her back were compressed, and she had cuts all over her small body.

There were a million things running through Jessica’s mind...but there was one thought she couldn’t shake.

“The (staff) said, ‘Is there anything you need?’ I said, I need to know the name of the man who did CPR on my daughter,” Jessica said.

It wouldn’t take long before both Rowley and the Schmidts would find their answers.

Rowley kept his story to himself. He never told anyone what happened that October morning. But, he did end up finding out who was in that van. He couldn’t show up at the hospital, so he did the next best thing. He drove over to the Schmidt’s Montgomery home with his fingers crossed.

Here, he ran into Nick’s brother, Sam, who was house sitting while Nick and Jessica tended to their children in the hospital.

Rowley explained to Sam who he was, and that he desperately needed to know if the girls were okay. He left his card, and urged Nick to get in touch with him.

“I don’t know if (Nick) understood why I needed to see his daughters so badly,” Rowley said. “I just needed to know that my efforts mattered. Doing (CPR) is one thing. But doing it and having the girl survive is a whole different thing.”

Nick and Jessica were elated. Finally, they had the name of their angel.

“In his eyes, he did what anybody would do, especially a police officer,” Nick said. “And that’s true, but it doesn’t take away from how amazing it was.”

A hero’s visit

Within two days of Abby’s release, Rowley paid the Schmidts a visit.

He brought teddy bears, and a smile that lit up the entire room.

“He came in, and it was one of those things where you weren’t sure if you were emotional sad, or emotional happy. But, it was emotional happy. He looked at me, and I said, ‘I recognize your face. I have to give you a hug.’,” Jessica said.

Rowley watched the little girls play, and laugh and argue. He watched them run around, and toss their toys, and smile.

“If there are awards given out over this thing, then fine—but, I got my award. There is nothing better than seeing them and knowing they are fine. That was my reward. That was my commendation,” he said.

For Nick and Jessica, it is important for the girls to know all about the man who happened upon them that terrifying morning. They may not understand now, but someday they will. Someday, they will be able to shake Sgt. Rowley’s hand themselves, and thank him for what he did.

So, the girls’ birth dates are programmed in Rowley’s phone, and he will celebrate each one with them. He will celebrate every smile, knowing that he helped those moments live on.

“There is definitely the life connection now,” he said. “It has been an amazing recovery. God is certainly looking after these girls.”

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