Seneca Valley teacher Henry “Leo” Stefanacci is expected to make a full recovery after the car he was driving plunged into the Connoquenessing Creek in Zelienople Sunday night.
“I really do believe the prayers are working,” said Kelly Stefanacci, Leo Stefanacci’s wife. “He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s much more alert today.”
Kelly Stefanacci said her husband, a popular learning support teacher at Seneca Valley Middle School in Jackson Township, is suffering from hypothermia, but does not have any damage to his heart or brain.
He remains in the critical care unit at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, she said.
A father of two daughters, Stefanacci, a Zelienople resident, was flown by medical helicopter to the hospital after firefighters pulled him from his vehicle, which was submerged upside down in the creek near the canoe launch off Halstead Boulevard.
Zelienople Police Chief Jim Miller said Stefanacci was driving north on the road, located behind an industrial park, when he lost control of the car at a bend in the road and skidded into the water.
Police are still investigating what caused him to leave the pavement, he said.
The Teen Heroes
After noticing fresh car tracks in the snow leading to the water, four teenagers on their way to the Burger King in Harmony to grab a meal with friends discovered Stefanacci’s car in the creek and dialed 9-1-1.
The teens, Zack Madaffari, 19, twins Josh and Nick Spiegel, 18 and Aimee Scholl, 18, are all volunteer firefighters with area departments, according to Zack’s mom, Jill Madaffari.
Madaffari and the Speigels are recent Seneca Valley graduates. Scholl currently is a student at the high school.
“I’m just proud of them all. They’re such a close group of kids,” Jill Madaffari said. “I’m just glad they were at there at the right place at the right time.”
Kelly Stefanacci called the teens her heroes.
“They are the ones who I personally want to call and thank,” she said. “They are the ones who started the miracle.”
Kelly Stefanacci also credited the quick work of area firefighters for saving her husband’s life.
Rescue and Recovery
Zelienople Fire Chief Rob Reeb said volunteers from Team 300, Butler County’s water rescue team, pulled Stefanacci from the water using Hurst Tools, better known as the Jaws of Life, to pry open the car.
While firefighters worked to open the door, other volunteers reached through the window of the car to hold Stefanacci’s head above water, allowing him to breathe until they were able to pull him from the wreckage, Reeb said.
Since the accident, Kelly Stefanacci, a first-grade teacher at Connoquenessing Elementary in the Butler Area School District, said she has been barraged by phone calls from well wishers.
Although Stefanacci is unable to talk because there is a treatment tube in his throat, his wife said she is hopeful the tube will be removed soon. Already, Stefanacci is trying to communicate with her through writing notes, she said.
“It’s a miracle,” she said.
People are asked not to call the hospital to check on Stefanacci because it interrupts treatment in the ICU unit, Kelly Stefanacci said. Instead, leave a message of support for Stefanacci in the comment section below.
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