Woman declared dead during flood reunites with rescuer

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Warren – — Jena David was flooded with gratitude Sunday as she thanked the man who may have saved her life.

Dustin Rowen and David met for lunch Sunday at Buddy’s Pizza off Van Dyke. It’s the same restaurant where Rowen and others frantically worked to help her during Aug. 11 rainstorms that closed freeways, flooded homes and led to false reports that David had died.

“I’m very thankful,” she said to Rowen, who pulled her from her car during the storm and carried her on his shoulders through waist-high water to the restaurant.

“I was very cold and went into shock,” she said. “I really don’t remember what happened.”

What happened was Rowen, Buddy’s staff and customers aided her while she lay on a table shivering, holding her hand, stroking her hair, and trying to keep her warm until help arrived. After Warren firefighters transported David to St. John Macomb Hospital, city officials mistakenly reported she had died. Then she showed up at Buddy’s the next day, looking for her glasses.

“I was shocked when she came back after hearing she was dead,” said restaurant employee Debra Deason, who helped David the night of the flood.

“She was shivering, and when she was first brought in, someone said to get a blanket,” Deason said. “We’re a restaurant — we don’t have blankets. So I grabbed a tablecloth and covered her with that.”

David, 30, and a Wayne State University psychology student, wanted to personally thank those who helped her, so she arranged Sunday’s get-together.

Rowan shrugged off the notion that he’s a hero.

“I just did what I had to,” said Rowen, 25, an optician who recently moved to Michigan from Spokane, Wash. “It was a crazy night.”

Judy Szczesny, 76, who was at the restaurant during the flood, tried to keep David warm by putting a hooded sweat shirt over her. She showed up Sunday and presented David with the sweat shirt.

“I’m so happy you’re OK,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed this.”

David’s parents, Dave and Layla, also came Sunday to thank Rowen and Buddy’s staff, including Deason, who used David’s cellphone to call her father during the flood and keep him informed.

David thanked Rowen several times. “All my relatives have been calling me and asking, ‘Who is that angel man?’ From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

Rowen helped others besides David the night of the flood. He said he was aiding an elderly woman when he spotted David thrashing about inside her car, which was already halfway submerged.

After Rowen carried David to the restaurant, he stayed with her until a customer who said she was a nurse cared for her.

“I tried to get a hold of that nurse so she could be here, too,” Szczesny said. “She told me her last name was York, and that she worked at the (Detroit Medical Center). But I wasn’t able to track her down.”

The day after the flood, Rowen heard news reports about David’s “death.” He was under the impression his efforts to save her were futile until The Detroit News reported that she had survived.

It’s been hectic for David since then. She’s been inundated with media interview requests. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” last week, and her story appeared in a London newspaper.

Rowen said his actions during the flood have his parents beaming.

“They keep telling me they’re proud of me,” he said.

Deason smiled as the group took their seats on the patio Sunday, just a few feet from the table where David lay the night of the flood.

“That was a terrible night, but this is a happy ending,” she said.


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