Michelle Martin

Good Samaritans

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Did you hear the one about the brain surgeon who walked six miles through the snow to perform a life-saving operation?

No, it’s not a joke. It really happened, although Zenko Hrynkiw, a 1977 graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, says he doesn’t know why everyone is making such a big deal about it.

“It really wasn’t that big of a deal,” Dr. Hrynkiw told the Birmingham News in an interview about his Jan. 28 trek from Brookwood Medical Center to Trinity Medical Center, where there was a patient who would die without the operation and no one else available to do it.

But temperatures were well below freezing as a storm system dropped two inches of snow on top of a layer of ice, and the Alabama roads were impassable. According to media reports, the 62-year-old doctor put on his overcoat over scrubs and surgical slip-ons over his shoes, fell once and rolled down a hill, and stopped to help some stranded motorists before someone was able to drive him the last mile or so.

The patient lived and is recovering well, and Dr. Hrynkiw was the feel-good story of the week.

Until, that is, the Internet commenters took over. Walking six miles isn’t that difficult, they said. Fifteen degrees isn’t that cold, and two inches of snow in any city that gets regular snowfall is barely enough to slow traffic.

That’s all true, but Birmingham isn’t Chicago, and its roads haven’t built up a coating of road salt — a coating that is added to every time we get precipitation in the winter. And our northern Baby Boomers who enjoy miles-long winter constitutionals usually dress for the weather, with boots and layers of fleece and Gore-Tex to protect them from the elements.

But what it comes right down to is that he didn’t have to do it. No one made him. No one, probably, would have thought less of him had he not done it. Isn’t that what the essence of being a Good Samaritan is? Helping when no one expects you to?

This winter has given lots of us ample opportunity to be good Samaritans to those around us, whether by clearing the snow from in front of a neighbor’s house or helping push a car out of a snow- and ice-bound parking space. Here’s to the man who helped me by doing that last week, after I picked up Teresa from her sitter. He got us on our way much more quickly than I could have done on my own. As in, before the thaw.

So thanks to all who have helped their neighbors this winter. Let’s honor them by doing the same thing: noticing when someone needs our help, and offering it, no strings attached. Then let’s try to keep it up as the temperatures climb, the snow melts and we emerge into the two nice days Chicago calls spring.


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