Woman found in collapse rubble lost both legs

Mariya Plekan (center) with daughter Nataliia Holovchak; her husband, Igor; son Andrii Plekan (right). Plekan's children have come to Philadelphia and say they plan to stay to take care of their mother.
Mariya Plekan (center) with daughter Nataliia Holovchak; her husband, Igor; son Andrii Plekan (right). Plekan's children have come to Philadelphia and say they plan to stay to take care of their mother.
Posted: June 19, 2013

The woman who survived nearly 13 hours in the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift shop collapse lost both legs at the pelvis because of injuries she sustained, her lawyer said Monday.

Mariya Plekan, 52, an immigrant from Ukraine who lives in Hunting Park, was in serious condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said the lawyer, Andrew Stern. She was initially misidentified by city officials as Myra Plekan, 61.

Plekan, who was undergoing a subsequent surgery Monday, suffered renal failure and a compromised liver, and developed a "very bad" infection during her ordeal, Stern said.

Her lower extremities had been crushed by debris when a wall being demolished in a building next door fell onto the roof of the thrift shop June 5.

Stern said he plans to sue "several" people, though he declined to say when.

"She's paid a heavy price," Stern said. "Half her body was removed.

"But when I get done, all the people responsible are going to pay, because this shouldn't have happened."

The woman known as the "Miracle of Market Street" engendered joy and gratitude among her firefighter rescuers, and inspired the city by surviving despite long odds.

After the collapse, Plekan's two grown children left Ukraine to be with her. Her daughter, Nataliia Holovchak, 24, a pharmacist, came with her husband, Igor, and their year-old daughter. Holovchak and her brother, Andrii, 25, who works as a project manager, are staying with family friends in the Northeast.

The children have no plans to return to Ukraine and will live here to care for their mother, Stern said.

Plekan told Stern that during the time she was trapped under bricks, wood, metal, and other debris, she prayed constantly and called for help often.

Pinned facedown, with her knees up to her chest and her arms splayed forward, Plekan heard the rescue dogs and at one point had the sense that a dog had heard her.

Around 11:35 p.m., Philadelphia Fire Capt. John O'Neill heard Plekan's cry for help and called out, "We have a live one," before he hit the ground and began trying to dig Plekan out with his bare hands.

Plekan was in constant pain throughout her time under the rubble, and was further hurt when rescuers moved the pile of debris to find victims, Stern said.

A widow who immigrated to the United States 11 years ago, Plekan came to this area to care for an elderly aunt, Stern said.

After her aunt died, Plekan, who spent some time in college in Ukraine, took a job caring for the elderly. She lives alone and is very religious, Stern said.

What may have saved Plekan's life was her hearty constitution, developed by her penchant for walking everywhere, he said.

"The doctors are thoroughly impressed with her resolve," Stern said, adding that Plekan is still combating infection.

"She's devastated, but very happy to be with her kids," he said.


Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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