Gregory P. Bach always believed his wife, Debra L., had returned from death's door for a reason.
Twenty years ago, life was slowly oozing from her and doctors couldn't figure out why. Then Gregory, a medical resident, broke into a hospital computer reserved for doctors and found that her symptoms matched those of Lyme disease.
Debra was treated for the illness, which is linked to deer ticks, and she recovered.
Gregory believed it was a sign.
"I knew, someday, she was going to do something to help someone," said Gregory, an expert on Lyme disease who practices medicine out of their Upper Bern Township residence.
That someday, Gregory believes, came Tuesday when Debra might have saved the lives of two men whose van caught fire on Route 61 in Tilden Township near Hamburg.
It was about 2:30 p.m. and Debra was driving north, just south of where the highway crosses Interstate 78.
A van, spewing smoke, had been pulled onto the berm along the oncoming lanes.
Something told Debra to pull over.
The van's driver was peering under the hood, as if thinking the engine might have overheated. Debra, however, noticed flames shooting from a rear tire beneath the van's gas tank.
With four lanes between them and with traffic buzzing by, it was useless for Debra to shout a warning.
So she frantically waved her arms and pointed to the burning rear tire.
She caught the attention of the driver, who immediately ordered a man inside to get out.
Moments later, the van burst into flames.
"She saved two people's lives," Gregory insisted.
Debra's a bit more modest.
"I'm just glad they got out of the van," she said. "At least I did something to help."
Debra, who had called 9-1-1 on her cell phone, left as state police arrived.
Troy R. Hatt, Hamburg Fire Company chief, said the van was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. No one was injured, but the van was destroyed, Hatt said.
Deeply touched by Tuesday's event, Gregory relived their lives together.
It was love at first sight, he said, when they met in 1988 at a Halloween party in New Jersey.
They were both in costume and masks covered their faces, yet he was immediately attracted to her.
They dated and, as Gregory prepared to leave for the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Science in Des Moines, Iowa, Debra became ill.
It was a baffling time.
For two years, doctors in Iowa were of little help as Debra slipped into the grip of the mysterious illness. She had lost 80 percent of her hearing and 50 percent of her sight, Gregory said.
Then he signed on as a resident in a Delaware Valley hospital. In the hospital's library, on a computer reserved for physicians, he found the key.
It was Lyme disease.
It was a pivotal moment for Gregory, who altered the course of his medical training.
He decided to specialize in treating Lyme disease. His practice involves treating those afflicted by the illness, and he has published research on Lyme disease.
Debra recovered, though her hearing remains impaired.
She went on to an accomplished career as a professional dog trainer.
Debra trained dogs for entertainers, including Philadelphia soul singer Teddy Pendergrass and several Philadelphia Eagles players.
"She has special powers with animals," Gregory said.
Gregory choked back emotion as he recalled how close his wife had come to death.
"I kept praying every night: 'God, the lady of my life is dying. Please lead me in the right direction,' " he recalled. "She's the closest thing to St. Theresa that I know."
Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.