Colleagues Act Fast to Rescue ‘Mr. Einstein’
One in an ongoing series
Andy Wright has been at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia so long that his nickname is “Mr. Einstein.”
Wright started working there as an escort when he was in high school and, except for a few years in the Navy and an abbreviated retirement, he’s worked there ever since. He’s now 67 and is the ambassador who greets visitors in the main lobby.
Einstein has not only been Wright’s life; on a cold February morning this year, Einstein saved his life.
It was early on a Sunday, and Wright was driving from his Northeast Philadelphia home to his church in West Oak Lane, a route that takes him past Einstein.
“I started feeling chest pain and felt – this can’t be happening again,” says Wright, who’d had a previous heart attack.
Wright called Einstein’s Protective Services Department, where he’s spent most of his career. He told command center dispatcher and longtime friend Frank Burwell he was headed to the Emergency Department (ED) and was three minutes away.
Stopping the Car
Burwell alerted officers to stand by for “one of our own” and began watching the hospital camera for Wright’s car to appear. When it did, four officers were waiting at the outside entrance to the ED. One of them was Corporal Wesley Applegate, who watched as Wright’s car turned into the ED driveway.
“I was bringing the wheelchair to the car and was yelling, ‘Stop the car and we’ll take you in!’” Applegate says. But Wright’s car didn’t stop.
Applegate grabbed the door handle as the car slowly drifted by, but the doors were locked.
“I could see through the tinted windows. He took a breath and slumped over,” Applegate says. Two officers ran in front of the car to literally try to stop it with their hands. The car came to a halt when the tire hit the curb at the end of the ramp.
Wright was unresponsive, slumped behind the wheel. The car was running. The doors were locked.
Breaking a Window
“That’s when Officer (Reginald) Hurley and I tried to break the window,” Applegate says. They smashed at the front driver’s window with their batons – Hurley pounded with his fists as well – until it finally gave way.
Applegate reached in, unlocked the door and shut the engine. They checked Wright to see if he had a pulse; he did.
By then, the ER docs had arrived with a stretcher. They removed Wright from the car and rushed him inside.
“The only thing I remember after that is Dr. (Merle) Carter. She leaned over to me and whispered, ‘Don’t worry, Andy. We got you,’” Wright says.
Then his heart stopped.
A Tense Vigil
Applegate, Hurley and others, including Protective Services Department Director Mark Wilhem and Assistant Director Gerard Baus, crowded into the ED.
“When I arrived, there were probably eight to 10 officers who stayed for hours after their shift was over, waiting to make sure that Andy and his family were OK” Wilhelm says.
Wright is a beloved figure at Einstein, Wilhelm adds, with his “institutional knowledge of the hospital and our community,” his good-humored but commanding presence, his “infectious laugh and his ability to just calm people down.”
Officers Burwell, Hurley and Applegate, along with Officers Cheick Fall, Javon McFadden, Dante Bibbs and Corporal Zachary Robinson, were honored by the department for their heroic rescue. “Because of them, Andy is alive and well,” Wilhelm says.
Three months have passed since that day, and Andy Wight is back at work. “I feel pretty good,” he says.
He gets emotional when he talks about the colleagues who saved him. “Honestly, I thank God every day for those guys. When I see them, I’m overjoyed just looking at them.”
A ‘Home’ Since 1969
Wright came to Einstein in 1969 when he was at Gratz High School. He went into the Navy after graduation, but kept in touch with his old friends at the hospital.
“I’d always stop here when I was home on leave,” he says. “They told me I could come back to work when I left the Navy, and that’s what I did.”
Except for a brief stint in the storeroom, Wright was in Protective Services until he retired as an administrative lieutenant in 2015, not long after his first heart attack.
Wright subsequently spent time with his 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and hung out in his “man cave” working on his rusty singing skills. He was part of a singing group in the Navy that performed at officers’ clubs in Europe, and has belonged to a soul music singing group since he was a teenager. “I said I was the Temptations and Marvin Gaye put together,” Wright says with a laugh.
Eventually, Wright got bored of being home and began working as a shuttle driver. One day, he ran into Mark Wilhelm when he dropped a passenger off at Einstein, and Wilhelm asked him to come back as the lobby greeter. “I wrote the job description with Andy in mind,” Wilhelm says.
And in September of 2018, Mr. Einstein came back to the place he refers to as “home.” The decision turned out to be a lifesaver.