Nursing assistant Katelyn Losquadro was on her way home from work when she saw a single-car accident and stopped to help the injured driver. That decision changed the course of both of their lives. Photos by Michael Ventura
If she hadn't driven her friend home that night, Katelyn Losquadro sometimes thinks, or sat in her car for 10 minutes thumbing through her cellphone, everything might have been different. Matt Gault might be dead, and she probably would still be trying to string together enough money to get through nursing school.
Two lives changed that night, Losquadro tells herself.
Most nights after work at the Brookdale senior living facility in Potomac, Losquadro would be home by 11:30, walking in the door of the windowless basement apartment in Montgomery Village that she shares with her two cats. “It may not be much, but it’s mine,” she says of her home. “I got it by myself.”
On that Friday night in January 2017, she was sitting in the driver’s seat of her orange Volkswagen Beetle, the dream car she’d bought new in 2015 after working as a live-in caregiver for a dementia patient in Damascus. She’d finished her shift at Brookdale at 11, dropped off a co-worker and was idling at a stop sign near the woman’s Aspen Hill home. Losquadro texted friends and searched for music to listen to on the drive back to Gaithersburg.
Gault was on the highway by then. It was just shy of midnight. He and his friends had gone skiing that day in Pennsylvania. The Quince Orchard High School graduate comes from a family of athletes, and skiing is one of his passions. His parents, Chris and Robyn, who own Fleet Feet Sports in the Kentlands, like to run and cycle. His interests have always been more adventurous: rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, barreling down the slopes as fast as he could. After hanging out at a friend’s house near Silver Spring, he and two others were driving back to Gaithersburg in his black Volkswagen Jetta. One friend was in the passenger seat, the other sat alongside the skis in the back.
They were driving west on Interstate 495 when they reached the split—I-495 curved off to the left, I-270 bent away to the right. Gault, then 20, was in the far left lane, but he needed to get onto I-270. “He did what I’ve done and I’m sure everybody’s done,” says his mother, Robyn. “He wanted to get over in the right-hand lane. There was a car in his blind spot. He didn’t want to hit the car and he overcorrected. We all think we can make it. We all do that.”
Gault’s car careened head-on into the guardrail on the left side of the entrance to I-270. The front end crumpled. The airbags deployed. The guardrail sliced through the inside of the Jetta, cut through the floorboard and ripped its way across the chassis. It missed Gault’s friends, but not him. The steel rail cut straight through his right leg below the knee, leaving his lower leg and foot in the backseat. Each heartbeat pumped blood through the open arteries.
It was just after midnight when Losquadro approached the single-car accident. With few other cars on the highway, she had a clear view of the scene. The battered Jetta was impaled on the guardrail, smoking. Outside, a group had assembled. Gault’s friends had emerged from the car and were calling 911 when she arrived. A couple had pulled over on the side of the highway, and the man was trying to pull Gault through the driver’s window. That could be a terrible mistake, Losquadro thought. A certified nursing assistant, she had been a caretaker for much of her life. If his back was broken, she realized, he could end up paralyzed. She pulled to a stop behind the car and turned on her high beams. “Is everyone alive?” she asked. The passengers seemed unscathed, but as she looked into the car she could tell that the driver was in bad shape. “He was pale as a ghost,” Losquadro recalls. She saw that his leg had been severed. Blood was pumping out fast, filling the car with a smell that reminded her of pennies.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” she remembers Gault shouting. “Where’s my leg? Where’s my leg?”
He seemed to be in too much shock to feel the pain, Losquadro says, but he was conscious and combative. He pounded the steering wheel. “My parents are going to kill me,” she remembers him saying. In a few hours, Gault told her, his mother and father were scheduled to catch an early-morning flight to the Dominican Republic. She worried that he would bleed to death before his parents heard about the accident. The more he pounded the steering wheel, Losquadro explained, the faster he could bleed out. “Let’s just focus on keeping you alive and keeping you calm,” she said.
“My leg is gone!” she remembers him yelling over and over. Still wearing her navy-blue scrubs from work, she tucked Gault’s face into her shoulder to keep him from looking at his injury, lifted his injured leg as high as she could to elevate the wound and slow the bleeding, kept his spine immobilized in case it was broken, and tried to calm him in order to slow his heart rate and reduce blood loss.
“I’m going to die,” she remembers him saying.
“Nobody’s dying today,” she told him. “Just relax.”
If this kid is going to die by the side of the road, she thought, I don’t want him to die alone.
This wasn't the first time that Losquadro had stopped at the scene of an accident. At 18, she was driving in her hometown of Kresgeville, Pennsylvania, when she came upon a young woman who’d driven into a tree. She stayed with the driver until help arrived. A few years later, on her way to a fundraiser for her mother’s funeral, Losquadro came across an overturned car in a ditch. She pulled over and helped the passengers out of the vehicle. Since Gault’s accident, she says, she keeps trauma shears and tourniquets in her car.
“I’ve been through so much trauma that stuff like this doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I can handle the situation—it’s just like a weird calling.”
Katelyn Losquadro was approaching the I-495/I-270 split in January 2017 when she saw a car that had careened head-on into a guardrail.
Losquadro, now 27, had little schooling to prepare her for an emergency like Gault’s, but she had a lifetime of experience. When she was 7, she says, her mother, a nurse, taught her to don gloves and help treat the incision from her grandmother’s hysterectomy. “From that moment on, I was like, OK, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Losquadro says. “I wanted to be a singer when I was a little girl, but other than that it was always nursing. My mom definitely planted that seed in my head.”
Her father, a correctional officer, and her mother had both been chronically ill while Losquadro was growing up in the Poconos. Like many in her town, her family didn’t have much money. Her parents often fought, and while she became close with her mother, she describes strained relations with her father and brother.
She helped care for both of her parents, repositioning them in bed when they couldn’t move, administering medication, and working with oxygen machines, nebulizers and mechanical lifts. After her father suffered a heart attack, Losquadro dropped out of high school to be with him. Her mother had multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, and when she developed lung cancer, Losquadro cared for her through her time in hospice. In debt and facing foreclosure, the family avoided eviction only because of laws that protect the seriously ill, she says. “We had pancakes four nights a week,” Losquadro says. “Coming from living poor and watching my mom struggle between medication and food, it makes me want to take care of people even more.”
Losquadro was 21 when her parents died within a month of each other. With both gone, she says, she was forced out of the house with no close family nearby. Her upbringing has given her a no-nonsense, up-by-her-bootstraps mentality. She can be funny, sentimental and compassionate, but her speech is often frank, blunt and detached, whether she’s talking about the traumas she’s witnessed or those she’s lived through. She has brown hair that she sometimes dyes red, wears darkframed glasses and sometimes sports a nose ring. She describes her approach to life as a sort of emergency room triage. “I know what I want,” she says, “and I know what I don’t want.”
After the deaths of her parents, Losquadro moved to Montgomery County to live with an aunt in Wheaton, but she says that soured when her aunt disapproved of her taking in the D.C. nightlife. Losquadro set out on her own, bouncing from Clarksburg to Poolesville to her apartment in Montgomery Village. It’s a small place, rented from the family who lives upstairs, but to Losquadro it feels like success. “I made the decision to better my life and move,” she says. “Where I’m from in Pennsylvania, I’ll be honest with you, either you get pregnant, you go to jail or you die of drugs.”
She waitressed for a while at The Limerick Pub in Wheaton, got her GED diploma, and in 2016 started nursing school at Montgomery College in Rockville before getting a job as a nursing assistant at Brookdale. The job wasn’t easy, she says. She spent a lot of time helping incontinent adults and endured verbal abuse from disoriented dementia patients. Losquadro had applied for a job in the emergency room at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, but says she was told she lacked hospital experience. Brookdale wasn’t the trauma nursing job she’d dreamed of, but at least she was caring for people.
Matt Gault (left) with his parents, Chris and Robyn, on a vacation in 2015
While Losquadro waited with Gault, rubberneckers slowed on the highway or stopped to take pictures before the fire engines, ambulances and police vehicles arrived. Paramedics rolled a stretcher toward Gault as she gripped his pant leg to try to elevate the wound.
“We’re going to have to cut the kid out of the car,” she heard someone say.
She helped hold Gault while rescue workers removed the door. “I’m not going to leave until they put you on this stretcher,” she remembers telling him. After cutting their way into the car, paramedics laid Gault onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance, Losquadro says. They found the severed portion of his leg in the backseat, too damaged to save.
Losquadro stepped back. “Good luck,” she said to Gault. As the ambulance drove away, she wondered if he would live or die, but assumed she probably would never know. Privacy laws prevented her from finding out anything more about him.
“That was it,” she says.
Losquadro drove home and told no one about the 15 minutes she had spent along the side of the highway trying to save a stranger’s life.
When Chris and Robyn got the call from the hospital at their home in Gaithersburg, the person on the other end told them that their son had been in an accident and had been taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, a regional trauma center in Falls Church, Virginia. He’d injured his leg, but he was all right, they were told. He might need surgery.
“When we got to the hospital and they walked us into this private little room, we knew something was up,” Robyn says. Their son’s lower right leg had been
sheared off, they learned. They went into his hospital room and found him in bed, and when he took the sheets off of his leg, they couldn’t bear to look. “Please don’t be mad at me. I’m really sorry,” Robyn remembers him saying as she tried to comfort him.
Gault, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told his parents about a good Samaritan who had appeared on the side of the road and cared for him until EMTs arrived. He never got her name, he said. “We didn’t know who she was, but he was telling us about this mystery lady who helped him,” Chris says.
“She saved our son’s life,” Robyn says. “It was like an angel was sent down.”
The Gaults shared the story of their son’s accident on social media and tried to track down the woman who came to his aid. “We would love to reach out to her to thank her,” Robyn wrote on her Facebook page. “If everyone could share this, who knows, we may find her.” Then they turned to Sarah Simmons, a reporter at Fox 5 News who is a customer of theirs at Fleet Feet Sports. Simmons came to the hospital on Sunday, less than 48 hours after the accident, and interviewed Chris and Robyn as they walked in front of the building on a blustery night and wondered aloud who the woman was who had come to their son’s rescue.
“If she wasn’t there, who knows what would have happened?” Robyn told the reporter.
Losquadro saw none of this. She didn’t have a television. When she received a call on Monday evening from a blocked number, she ignored it. “I thought it was a bill collector,” she says, laughing. Then a text appeared on her phone from one of the police officers who’d been at the crash scene. He hadn’t taken a report from her, but he’d caught her name, tracked her down and asked her to call him immediately.
“My first thought was, Oh my God. He didn’t make it,” Losquadro says.
When she called the officer, he told her that she had been on the news. “The family is looking for you,” she remembers him telling her. Gault had survived.
Later that night, Losquadro reached out to Gault’s mother through Facebook Messenger. “I think you have been looking for me,” she wrote. She described having taken care of Gault at the accident scene.
“Wow!!” Robyn replied. She left her phone number. “Call when you can.” They agreed to meet at Inova Fairfax and allow a Fox 5 crew to do a story about them. A picture Robyn posted on Facebook shows Losquadro with her arm around Gault in his hospital bed as he smiles and gives a thumbs-up with a bandaged hand.
Gault’s parents started exchanging texts and Facebook messages with Losquadro. The family went out to dinner with her. Chris and Robyn established a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $10,000 to help fund Losquadro’s nursing studies. “Our son, Matt, was in a bad automobile accident,” the couple wrote on the GoFundMe page. Katelyn, they explained, “took control of the situation and saved his life by controlling his blood loss, calming him down and making sure he was in a position so he would not possibly be paralyzed. Katelyn is now considered his ‘angel.’ ” The fund raised $11,175.
“Accepting that GoFundMe money was hard for me,” says Losquadro, who wasn’t accustomed to receiving generosity from others. “I had $600 to my name when the accident happened.” The Gaults also contacted a friend at Shady Grove hospital who helped her land the ER job she’d applied for earlier.
“I’ve had a rough go of it in life,”Losquadro says. “I feel bad that I got so much positivity out of such an awful situation. Matt lost his leg, and he’s going to have a long road of recovery. My life has done a 180 and improved for the better.”
For Gault, his first surgery in the hours after the accident was only the beginning. He’s had about a dozen operations since then, and may face more as doctors try to save as much of his leg as possible. His spine was fractured in three places. He went home after spending two weeks in the hospital, but had to return when he developed an infection. A fall didn’t help matters. “We weren’t out of the woods for so long,” Robyn says. “We kept praying he would keep that knee. It was two steps forward, one step back.”
Gault may still be months away from being fitted with a prosthetic leg, but his parents say he’s tried to remain upbeat. He’s gone hiking on his crutches, and he’s working out with a personal trainer who also lost part of a leg. Gault hopes to return to skiing soon and eventually to compete in the Paralympics.
He can do it, says Gault’s trainer, Chris Tate, who owns Conquer Fitness in Rockville. Tate was 23 when he lost part of his left leg after a drunk driver hit him while he was riding a dirt bike near a friend’s house. In the nearly eight years since, he’s become a top finisher in regional 5K runs, and he’s far faster now than when he had both legs, he says. “He already has the drive, mentally,” Tate says of Gault. “Now, physically, we gotta get to work.”
Losquadro has a long road ahead of her, too. She has three more years of school before she’ll get the bachelor’s degree that will allow her to become a trauma nurse. In the meantime, she’s working the overnight shift as a nursing assistant at Shady Grove, caring for the early-morning trauma patients who come through the doors. “A lot of good has come to me out of a tragic situation,” she says. “I have only just begun to live my life.”
David Frey, who lives in Gaithersburg, is managing editor at The Wildlife Society and a freelance writer.