Vickroy: Hometown grandma defies odds after fire
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 August 31, 2012 6:52PM
Rose Anne Crocker talks about the house fire her mother, Mary Gilmartin, survived as she recouperates at Manor Care in Palos Heights Wednesday, August 29, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:06AM
Good genes, good neighbors, good luck.
Rose Anne Crocker isn’t sure how her mother was able to beat the odds and recover from smoke inhalation and third-degree burns suffered when she was trapped in their burning home during a fire in July.
“It’s a miracle, for sure. Even the doctors didn’t expect her to survive,” Crocker said.
Officials at Stroger Hospital gave the 93-year-old Hometown woman three to five days to live, Crocker said.
“They told me to start planning her funeral,” she said.
Yet, here it is six weeks later, and Mary Gilmartin has surprised everyone — most of all the daughter with whom she’s lived for the past two years.
“It’s amazing. She’s amazing,” Crocker said.
The morning of July 16 dawned much like every other day for Gilmartin, a retired secretary for the University of Illinois pediatrics department. Crocker had worked her overnight stocking job at Wal-Mart and then stopped at her daughter’s house in Palos Hills to watch her grandchildren for a few hours.
Gilmartin was home sleeping. She usually slept late, until 11-ish. She’d wake up about the time Crocker got home from baby-sitting.
On this particular Monday, however, Gilmartin woke up early to use the bathroom. Everything was fine when she went into the bathroom, but when she opened the door to return to her bedroom, the house was filled with smoke.
She tried to make her way to the front door but tripped and fell, she said.
Hometown fire officials say the cause of the 7:45 a.m. blaze still is under investigation, but Crocker says it began when a coil in the freezer overheated and ignited.
Neighbors, who called 911 and tried to break through the picture window to rescue Gilmartin, told Crocker that within five minutes the place was ablaze.
“Smoke was everywhere,” Gilmartin said. “I couldn’t see.”
Though the fall trapped her inside the house, it positioned her low to the ground, which is where you should stay if you find yourself in a smoke-filled room.
By the time firefighters could get to her, Gilmartin had suffered smoke inhalation and burns on her arms and legs from the intense 450-degree heat.
She was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn initially and then to Stroger Hospital in Chicago.
Crocker said the dismal prognosis was based on her mother’s age, condition and the statistical odds against her recovering.
“It was very upsetting,” Crocker said.
But then Gilmartin was transferred again, to RML Specialty Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Hinsdale that specializes in treating patients with respiratory ailments.
Within 24 hours, her lungs were clear.
“She couldn’t have skin grafts because of her age,” Crocker said. “So they kept her heavily sedated, for the pain.”
Last week, Gilmartin was moved to Manor Care East in Palos Heights, where she is building strength and preparing for rehabilitation.
Her next move, Crocker said, will be home — once Crocker finds a ranch-style or first-floor rental while her duplex is rebuilt.
Crocker and Gilmartin lost almost everything in the fire, although they are hoping some heirlooms and mementoes will be salvageable.
“But the most important thing is that my mom is OK,” Crocker said. “She’s strong, she’s a fighter and she comes from good stock.”
Aside from when she gave birth to Rose Anne and her brother, Tommy, who died in 2003, Gilmartin had been hospitalized only once before, when she contracted pneumonia at age 90.
“She kept telling the nurses then that she hadn’t been in a hospital since she had me,” Crocker said. “She has a strong heart.”
As amazing as her mom is, Crocker said if not for caring neighbors, the grandmother and great-grandmother who loves TV game shows wouldn’t have survived.
When firefighters arrived, they had no idea there was an elderly woman trapped inside, Crocker said. Neighbors alerted them.
“My neighbors are the best,” she said. “They’re always looking out for us. They check on my mom all the time. This time, they helped save her life.”