How a firefighter cadet saved 79-year-old Dennis Platt’s life and became family

The Platt family in San Fernando Valley has a lot to be grateful for this holiday season, after its robust 79-year-old patriarch, Dennis Platt, was severely injured in July 2021 when a motorist ran a red light and t-boned his truck in West Hills, leaving him unresponsive after he crawled from the wreckage.

Platt’s truck was struck so hard as he drove to a store to buy paint that his dog was thrown out of an open window. Had it not been for 17-year-old Los Angeles City Fire Department cadet Leo Kaufman, who found Platt laying on the curb and administered CPR, Platt would not have celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday with his family.

Their guest of honor at dinner last week was the teen who they’ve “adopted” and refer to as their angel.

“What I’m grateful for is that my youngest daughter and my wife have stepped up to the plate to take care of me, because this has been tough,” said Platt, a Bell Canyon resident. “And Leo saving my life. If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be any me. He went way above any call of a normal person. All of the bystanders told him to leave me alone and he said, ‘No, no,’ he’s already (technically) dead, so how can I hurt him?’”

A year ago, the entire family celebrated Thanksgiving in the courtyard at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital/ Medical Center, the only trauma center in the San Fernando Valley, where Platt was recovering from massive injuries including broken bones and life-threatening ailments that still haunt him today.

Dennis Platt with Leo Kaufman at Platt’s Bell Canyon home Friday, Nov 25, 2022. A year and a half ago Platt and his dog Ginger were involved in an auto accident after car ran a red light hitting Platt’s truck. Platt and his dog Ginger from the car during the collision. Kaufman then a 17-year old LAFD cadet performed CPR on Platt until firefighters arrived. Platt and Kaufman spent Thanksgiving together and have become friends. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The cadet, Kaufman, now 18, was on his way to lunch and the dentist when he came upon the accident. Two years earlier he had taken a CPR class as part of his firefighting training, and sprang into action while others stood gawking.

“No one was really doing anything,” said Kaufman, a Summit View High School graduate and West Hills resident. “There were a bunch of people saying ‘Don’t touch him, don’t touch him!’” because they feared that if he had a spinal injury he could be paralyzed if he was moved.

“Within seconds I realized he didn’t have a pulse and he was not breathing,” Kaufman recalls, “so that was my indication to begin CPR chest compressions.” Paramedics arrived about four minutes later.

Kaufman said employees at a nearby bike shop took in the dog, a Boxer named Ginger who had minor injuries and scrapes on her paws but was generally okay after being thrown from a window as the car was spinning.

It wasn’t until months later that Platt and Kaufman reunited through a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain who Kaufman told his story of performing CPR that day. The captain knew about the Platt accident and realized Kaufman was the “angel” the Platt family was trying to find — to thank.

“I finally got to meet Platt himself and he was walking when I met him,” Kaufman says today. “I know he was having trouble but he actually got up out of his wheelchair with minimal help and walked over to me, which the doctors said was impossible, so that was pretty cool. He proved the (doctors) wrong.”

The Platt family has suffered at many levels, physically, financially and emotionally.

“I’m grateful for knowing a God that is mighty and he can heal and save — and that’s the only thing that’s keeping me going, keeping my mind together and my family,” said Vicki Platt, 75, mother of four children and family matriarch. “This is all new to (us). My husband used to be the provider, he did everything, and now I have to.”

The family can’t say enough about the care Platt received at the hospital, where at one point they gathered to say their goodbyes.

“If I could be on a mountaintop and shout for Northridge hospital, I would shout for them,” Vicki Platt said. “They are the most incredible people down to their guards, down to their aides, they just enfolded us like we were their family. I miss them terribly. I don’t say that about many things. They take what they do very seriously and very compassionately.”

Before the accident, Dennis Platt was very active physically, according to his youngest daughter Lacey Platt, who said the family has been on a roller coaster since the uninsured, unlicensed driver plowed through the intersection on a red light.

She said of her father, “You are who you are, and then you wake up and you’re somebody else.”

Today, she says, “This accident took a man with a 60-year-old body, if not even younger than that, and stole life from him. He will never be running marathons, jumping on his bike or doing construction (because) he had to close his business.”

But she says with warmth and gratitude, “He’s alive because of Leo keeping the oxygen to dad’s brain.”

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