There wasn't a moment to spare.

An ambulance had to be summoned and emergency doctors alerted. A woman, seven weeks pregnant, was in a horrific traffic accident. Her spinal column was fractured in two key places, her spinal ligaments irrevocably damaged. The car, totaled.

Catalina Vady, 32, of Coram, had been driving home from work on an afternoon in May heading toward Exit 53 on the Long Island Expressway. Glancing into her rearview mirror, she saw what any driver would dread: A pickup truck moving at high speed directly behind her car, homing in like a heat-seeking missile.

In a chilling instant before the collision, she recalls thinking: Just save the baby -- save the baby.

Vady, who said she is a woman of deep faith, credits divine providence with what happened next: Doctors saved her life. Her developing son came through the trauma unscathed. She is 5 1/2 months pregnant now. Quick thinking by an interdisciplinary medical team at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, led by her neurosurgeon -- Dr. Justin Thomas -- helped her avoid paralysis and lifelong disability, hospital officials said Wednesday.

She picks up the rest of her story from here:

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"I see this truck coming behind me. It was too close. I didn't have time to react. I really don't remember being hit because I was knocked unconscious," she said of what happened initially.

"I guess I hit the side of my head on the car," said Vady, who a few days earlier had graduated from nursing school.

"But I must have been in and out of consciousness. I was aware that I couldn't move my neck. There were people all around. They told me, 'Don't move.' "

"I could hear the guy on the sideline," she said of the pickup driver, "saying, 'I'm so sorry.' The next thing I remember is being in the ambulance."

While in the ambulance, an emergency technician kept talking to her, Vady said, asking for her husband's cellphone number. Details drifted into a haze.

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Thomas, the neurosurgeon, led a daring two-part operation. He described Vady's case as extremely complex.

"My first decision was how best to approach this," Thomas said. "She required two procedures, one through the front of her neck and another through the back [of the neck].

"What made her situation unique was the pregnancy," he said.

The 7 1/2-hour procedure required him to first remove torn ligaments and a damaged spinal disk, operating first through the front. Through the rear of Vady's neck, Thomas said, he placed rods and screws at four levels to stabilize her spinal column.

Vady said she's feeling like herself again: "I am very happy. I can put more focus on the baby now. I am enjoying the pregnancy."