5 questions with…flight nursing director, life-saving Good Samaritan Chris Manacci

As Chris Manacci headed home to Chagrin Falls from his son’s Case Western Reserve football game at Hiram College, he passed by a van with a boat in tow—and a tire that was dangerously low. After dropping his wife off at home, Manacci, the clinical director of the Dorothy Ebersbach Academic Center for Flight Nursing, headed back out with a can of Fix-a-Flat to assist the driver.

Manacci found the driver, Gerald Gronkowski, and his 15-year-old son stopped on the side of the road with a tire that was, by now, well beyond the repair of his Fix-a-Flat. He pulled up about 500 feet behind the van and began talking to the driver and his son, who lived in Parma but had been boating on a nearby lake.

As they talked, a pick-up truck came barreling toward them at about 50 or 60 miles per hour, Manacci said, and slammed into Manacci’s car. The impact sent the truck airborne, up on two wheels, Manacci remembered, and missed Gronkowski and his son by about 3 feet. If Manacci’s vehicle had not been parked there, the driver “would have hit that guy and his son, absolutely,” Manacci said. The pick-up truck driver was charged with drunken driving.

The moment was a fateful and life-changing interaction that none of them ever will forget. But as the three continued to chat, they realized their connection went even deeper.

In the conversation that followed the accident, Manacci told Gronkowski of his career as a nurse practitioner. Gronkowski began to tell a story of how a nurse practitioner came to his rescue on the nearby lake about eight years before, as a triple-fish-hook got caught in his hand. His son had called out onto the lake seeking help, and a nurse practitioner came over to help. He removed the hook, took care of the wound, and told Gronkowski to follow up by email to let him know the wound healed.

As he finished the story, Manacci chimed in. “I said, ‘Yeah, I know that story well—it was me.” As all those involved stood, laughing and chatting in disbelief, Gronkowski offered to repay Manacci by taking him out fishing. “To which I told him, ‘No disrespect, but with all of your experience in fishing, I’d rather go bowling,'” Manacci said with a laugh.

Manacci’s story—the Good Samaritan who helped save the same stranger’s life twice—made local and national headlines in the days that followed. And though he’s enjoyed sharing his story, Manacci really just hopes he’s setting a good example about the importance of helping others.

“You never know what small thing you’re going to do that turns into some kind of miracle, really,” he said. “When you look at it from the outside, the mathematical probability of helping the same guy twice in eight years in pretty much zero. But it happened.”

Hear more from Manacci in this week’s five questions.

1. What are you reading—and how are you reading it (print vs. digital)?
Well, I’m on the final stages of my doctoral thesis [for a doctor of nursing practice degree] so all of my reading is not terribly, shall I say, exciting for most people. It’s mostly research, things like that. But the last book that I read cover to cover was The Shack, in paperback.

2. What can’t you live without?
My family, really, would be it. My family is such a big part of my life. My daughter is a senior at Ohio State University and my son is a freshman at Case Western Reserve. My wife and I have been married for 25 years. So my family is a big thing for me.

3. What’s your favorite spot on campus?
I would have to say, and this is going to sound a little geekish, but I’d say Allen [Memorial Medical Building’s] library. The medical museum, the stacks—I think that’s all very cool.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Probably something my father told me, which was: “You were born normal, and for that you can thank God. So if you end up average, it’s your own fault.” I think it was pretty sound advice.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve University?
Well, the Dorothy Ebersbach Academic Center for Flight Nursing, of course.

But, really, I think Case Western Reserve is one of those schools that is so rare because the people here—they don’t just expect to educate you; they expect you will go out, leave and change the world. They expect it. It’s part of the culture, part of the nature of the school. It’s just a wonderful place to be.