WILMINGTON, Del. -- Joan Huber doesn't remember much from that spring afternoon 18 years ago when her car collided with a bus full of high school students.
Her last memories are of turning left on a green light in her white hatchback. That's when her car smashed into a school bus reportedly traveling through a yellow light, according to the story that appeared the next day in The News Journal.
Huber's glasses flew off her face, and everything went dark.
She was flown by helicopter to Christana Hospital, where she was treated for five broken ribs and a severe concussion.
It was from family members that she learned about Christian Smith, a 16-year-old junior ROTC student from Mount Pleasant High School who got off that bus to check on her. They told her how Christian wrapped her own jacket around Huber's head to stop the bleeding and chased off someone who tried to steal the injured woman's purse.
"I owe her a debt of gratitude. It was one of those things I can never repay," Huber said.
After the accident, Huber's sister mailed a check to Christian's family as a thank-you to make up for the blood-stained jacket. Huber, meanwhile, contended with traffic charges related to the accident.
She never got the chance to thank the young girl she considered her guardian angel on that hectic, hellish day.
Until 10 days ago, when Huber shuffled into a local LabCorp, which provides medical laboratory tests.
There are no strangers
Christian Reynolds isn't one to watch life from the sidelines. She's down on the field, mixing it up and laughing. There are no strangers in her world – just friends she hasn't met yet.
"I'll talk to anybody," said Reynolds, 34, of Claymont. "I'll make them laugh, whatever. Just to spark that conversation."
Her teachers at the Harris School of Business in Wilmington, where she is finishing medical assistant training, have come to know her mood by the color of her eyeshadow. Pink is hyper, blue is moody, purple is spunky. And gold – well, watch out, world. She's ready to take over.
A wallflower she is not. But underneath that perky exterior is a heart that beats with deep compassion. Pamela Tate, one of her instructors at Harris, said Reynolds can always be counted on to nudge her classmates and help them see they can accomplish more than they realize.
It's an attitude Reynolds found was true of herself.
Before she started her phlebotomy class at Harris, she hated needles. Then one day in the middle of class, her teacher made her draw someone's blood on the spot.
And with that first prick of the skin – "I liked it," she said. "And I realized I was good at it. It's just one of those things that you can either do or not."
From there, her enthusiasm grew. Students need 10 successful venipunctures to complete the phlebotomy class; Reynolds finished with 50, said her teacher, Holly Kemp. And while it's typical for Harris students to practice their fledgling skills on classmates, Reynolds had a knack for somehow getting the massage and dental students to offer up their arms.
"She'd bat her eyes and they'd say yes," said Suzanne Bitters, director of education at Harris.
A chance meeting
Three weeks ago, Reynolds started an externship with the LabCorp in the Fairfax Shopping Center.
On the morning of Jan. 23, Reynolds was preparing for patients when she saw an older woman with a walker waiting for someone to draw her blood.
At age 75, Huber has battled her share of health problems. Her face is a familiar one at the Fairfax lab; she's known as a hard stick because of the difficulty in finding a good vein.
As Reynolds approached, Huber warned her: "I have bad veins."
Reynolds smiled – she's heard the same thing from plenty of patients. She found a vein on the first try.
"You're good," Huber told her.
Something about the woman's comforting and easygoing style clicked with Huber. The two continued chatting.
Out of the blue, Huber asked if she believed in guardian angels.
"Yes, ma'am, I do," Reynolds said.
"What's your name?" Huber asked. "I'd like to be able to ask for you again."
"Christian," Reynolds replied.
"I once knew of a girl named Christian," Huber said. "She got off the school bus and tried to help me when I was in a bad car accident."
Tiny hairs rose on the back of Reynolds' neck.
"She tried to stop the bleeding from my head."
Goose bumps pimpled her arms.
"I never got a chance to meet her."
Reynolds juggled the tubes of blood in her hand.
She looked at Huber.
"I am that Christian," she said.
'I've never forgotten you'
Huber and Reynolds laughed in surprise, then locked arms.
It was a reunion of sorts – only the two never have been together for more than a few minutes their entire lives.
They share a bond few people will ever understand – a stranger being comforted by a good Samaritan in a moment of need.
"I've never forgotten you," Huber said.
Back when the accident happened, in April 1996, the story made the front page ofThe News Journal, along with the local television news. But it wasn't as big a deal for young Christian Smith.
Afterward, she went home, washed the blood out of her jacket and went out to find her friends. Her parents had to track her down so she could be interviewed by reporters.
Life moved along. She married and became Christian Reynolds. She had three children: Savon, 10, Kayla, 7, and Dayana, 5. For the past 10 years, she's worked a bookkeeping job at a grocery store.
But Reynolds didn't forget about Huber.
She kept a laminated copy of the newspaper clipping, which includes a stern-looking picture of her teenage self – one her children don't believe is their mother.
And thanks to small-world Delaware, Reynolds had a cousin who worked at Huber's bank and would occasionally pass along updates.
Reynolds' mother still tells people about the time her youngest literally took matters into her own hands. Even 18 years later, Reynolds still gets embarrassed.
"You're still bragging on me about that," Reynolds joked to her mother, Florence Smith.
"You still deserve it," Smith said.
'My mom's a hero'
For most of us, that single act of bystander heroism would be enough to last a lifetime.
But apparently not for Reynolds.
Just last June, she was heading back from a funeral when she saw an SUV flipped over on the interstate.
The vehicle was on fire. The driver was still inside.
While her children watched anxiously from the car, Reynolds – wearing 3-inch heels – pulled the 60-year-old driver out of the vehicle. She called police, and after help arrived, she left, ducking out before anyone could thank her.
"My daughter said, 'My mom's a hero,'" Reynolds said with a laugh. "I'm just trying to be the example for them."
She says she's only doing what she believes anyone should do – helping those who need it.
"That's the way I was raised. If you can help, that's what you do," she said. "What if it was your mom or your dad? You'd want someone to do the same."
Huber knows otherwise. Blacked out and bleeding on the side of the road, she was at the mercy of strangers.
One person in a crowd of many came to her aid – a young girl with a coat and a big heart.
"She will always be my guardian angel," Huber said.