COLUMBIA — Almost a year after nearly drowning in the Tara Apartments pool, MU graduate student Yirui Wei met the firefighters who saved her life at a reunion and reception held by her family and friends on Friday. Wei, 23, didn’t know that she would be meeting the firefighters. She didn’t remember them from the night of the accident.
“She’s got a second chance and to know that we had a part, it’s very humbling,” said Danny Spry, the firefighter who jumped in the pool on June 25, 2009 to save Wei. “This is something we don’t see everyday.”
Wei also met Jim Kandlik and Cole White, two more firefighters who helped to save her life. Captain Billy Hurtand Lieutenant Tom Ogden were also involved in saving Wei on June 25 but were unable to attend the reunion.
To her, the firefighters are “totally heroes.”
Spry described the June 25 saving and resuscitation of Wei as a total team effort. The three men present at the reunion got time to talk to Wei and ask her about her recovery and her future plans.
“Someday when we are getting ready to retire, this is the kind of thing we’re going to remember,” Spry said.
After nearly a year, Wei said the hardest thing about her recovery is dealing with some memory loss.
“The doctors say I have memory problems, but I don’t think so,” said Wei.
Wei, working on a Ph.D. in protein dynamics at MU, is leaving on May 25 to go home to Yushan, China, a small city near Shanghai. She will be there for about a year before returning to MU next June to finish her studies. She is happy to be going home, and is anxious to return to MU.
Yonghua Fu, Wei’s mother, was at the reception. She was very touched and moved by “so many friends helping out.” Wei and her family made the hard decision to send her home for a year, friend and translator Wei Wycoff said. The doctors told Wei to rest for at least 18 months.
Lesa Beamer, an associate biochemistry professor at MU and friend and teacher to Wei, said that Wei wanted to come back to school right away, but they had to stop her.
“She’s not afraid of anything,” Beamer said.
After being unconscious for six weeks in the hospital after the accident, friends and family didn’t know if she would be able to walk or talk again, Beamer said. She was not breathing on her own, and it was unknown what would happen if she went home to China to finish her recovery, because her family didn't have medical insurance.
Money from fundraising allowed Wei to stay in Columbia instead of sending her on a plane to China with an oxygen tank, Beamer said.
Funds were raised through Boone County National Bank and the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, as well as through the efforts of friends and community members.
After spending time in intensive care, Wei went to the Howard A. Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia.
“That was the part we needed to raise the money for,” Beamer said.
Beamer and other friends of Wei collected money downtown, made fliers and held benefit concerts to raise money. The money came from faculty, students, people on the street and all over, Beamer said.