Mother hears about son's last minutes
Dina Galusha spent an hour Saturday quietly listening, sometimes wiping her tears.
When it was all over, she said she was glad she heard Paramedic Jeffrey Knopf describe his experiences trying to save the life of her son, Dakota, who was run over by a school bus in front of Northampton Area Middle School Jan. 26, 2009.
Knopf spoke at the Pocono EMS Conference Saturday at Pocono Manor about his experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Dakota lost his life. About 50 firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and other first responders listened to the presentation before giving Galusha and Knopf a standing ovation with applause lasting 30 seconds.
"One of the things I worried about with Dakota was that people wouldn't remember him," said Galusha, who stepped up to the front of the room at the end of Knopf's speech, after he introduced her as his hero. "If you walk away with something from Jeff with Dakota's story, Dakota's still here with everybody and that really really means a lot to me."
Knopf met Galusha and her husband, Kendall, the day Dakota died. As members of an ambulance crew with Northampton Regional EMS, he and partner Tim Sullivan asked officials at St. Luke's Hospital if they could meet the parents of the patient they lost.
The Galushas agreed to see them.
"You know what they said to me? 'Thank you for everything you did. Thank you,'" Knopf said during the presentation.
"Thank you for what? I didn't do what I wanted to do which was give them their little boy back."
Knopf and Sullivan attended the viewing and the funeral where they were greeted with hugs by the Galushas.
"'Thank you,' they said. 'Thank you so much," recalled Knopf. "There's that word again, 'thank you.'"
Galusha said Knopf was Dakota's angel.
"He was with Dakota when he left me and went on to heaven. And today he showed me the path and I never knew the path," she said, fighting tears. "I thank him for telling me all of that and for telling me the truthful – the truthful – story of what happened to my son."
In addition to describing the call and his struggle with PTSD, Knopf told his audience about the Dakota Galusha Memorial Fund and the annual basketball tournaments.
"I like to help," he said. "That's what this family is about. That's what Dakota was about. He was a hell of an athlete. I wish I would have known him."
During a light moment in the presentation, Knopf showed photos of himself playing on the Dakota Friends team against the Wizards at a recent basketball tournament.
"I suck at basketball," he said. "But I put on that jersey and I did my best."
The audience laughed.
He showed another photo of himself on the court with one of the Wizards.
"No, I never got the ball away from him either," he said to more laughter.
Turning serious again, he credited a friend, Amy Grill Muzopappa, with a quote that helped him heal.
"You might not have saved his body but you saved his spirit," he quoted her as saying.
"Yeah, yeah," whispered Galusha from her seat.
"This is kind of like Dakota helping you guys," Knopf told the audience. "I do what I do to help you guys because of my experience. This time it's Dakota helping you guys."
Knopf has ribbons in Dakota's favorite colors – lime green and purple – attached to his paramedic badge. He wears them close to his heart, he said.
"I've been to the cemetery," he said. "I've talked to him."
"I know he didn't go to heaven alone and that means the world to me," Galusha told Knopf "And when it's your time he'll be one of the first ones to greet you and say the same thing I did – 'thank you.'"