As the young mother raced to her five-year-old’s school, memories of another time bombarded her. It wasn’t that long ago that she had these same feelings of fear. She looked over at her 13-year-old son, Sam, sitting in the front seat and warned him that something was wrong and he had better be ready.
“Zane and I had lost a child in 2011 and as I was driving to the school I had a feeling like, ‘I can’t do it again,’” Leah Hedger said. “We beat the ambulance there by seconds. When I saw Ryan lying on the ground I just knew he was gone. I told Sam, ‘You are about to see your mother in a state that is probably going to scar you for life.’”
That somewhat familiar expression, “It takes a village to raise a child” is attributed to an African proverb. It was never more true this week when the life of a five-year-old John Ross Elementary kindergarten student, Ryan Hedger, was literally saved by the actions of the members of the communal village working together.
What started as a normal school day ended on what could have been a tragic note if it weren’t for a group of people working as one. It was a day like no other, when everyone from a 5-year-old best buddy, to faculty members, a surgeon just stopping by to pick up his child, and first responders who had been called, played integral parts in saving the life of a small child.
It was a day that will remain in the memories of more than one person for many years to come.
TEAMWORK TAKES OVER
When 5-year-old Ryan slumped to the playground the quick thinking of his friend Landon Beaty set in motion a series of events that literally saved little Ryan’s life.
“The children in the after school program, Nighthawk Hangout, had just walked out the door to the playground when Ryan crumpled to the ground under a piece of playground equipment,” said Principal Christa Ellis.
It was then that one of Ryan’s best buddies, Landon Beaty, saw Ryan and could tell something was wrong. He went to the on-duty teacher, Laura Ward, and told her that Ryan was hurt.
Ryan is the son of Zane and Leah Hedger who teaches third grade at John Ross.
“Laura said, ‘Show me where he is’ and as she went over to Ryan she could see the situation was critical,” Ellis said. “Laura shook him and shouted his name then she laid him out and started chest compressions. Another faculty member Robin Decker called the after school director and said they had a medical emergency.”
The director of the after school program, Lisa Ross, grabbed school counselor Donni Harris and ran to the playground. As they approached Ward doing CPR compressions, Ross started doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Tara Peterson joined Ward as they traded off doing the CPR compressions.
Meanwhile, in the building a member of the office staff, Patricia Anderson, grabbed the school’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED) from the nurse’s office and raced outdoors.
“Each school has an AED that was either donated by a local business or purchased by the school district,” Ellis said.
As Anderson approached Ryan, the teachers were taking his shirt off and Harris and Ward got the pads and placed them as directed by the device’s instructions on the young boy.
“Donni pressed the shock button and about that time a surgeon had come to pick his son up from Robotics and was directed to the playground area,” Ellis said. “Dr. Dennis Bond kind of took over for the teachers. He knew what to do and did it until the paramedics arrived.”
Ellis said the young boy was non responsive, turning blue, and it was noticeable that his heart was not working and he was not breathing.
The firefighters showed up and then members of EMSA were on the scene. By the time EMSA arrived on the scene and took over, the teachers could tell by the EMSA workers’ body language the situation was serious.
At the onset someone had the clarity of mind to contact Ryan’s mother who was at the dentist getting her eldest son’s teeth cleaned.
“Leah arrived at the school the same time the ambulance arrived,” Ellis said. “It was just amazing that it all went like clockwork. Our faculty is close but the situation took on a personal tone because we work with Leah.”
Both Tara Peterson and Lisa Ross work with Ryan’s mom on the same third grade team.
“Everyone was working together,” Ellis said. “Instinct kicked in and they did what they could and it was pretty amazing.”
Ellis said on a daily basis, as a staff the educators come together and support one another.
“They are still rattled. We are all on an adrenalin high,” Ellis said. “They need support just like the Hedgers do only in a different way, and we are providing what we can.
“It has been a challenging week,” Leah said. “Ryan is alive because of what everyone did.”
The timing was perfect from the first call for help by Landon to the teachers each taking on a role, to the surgeon showing up at the right moment in time, to the firefighters and EMSA workers taking over.
“Ryan was shocked three times with the AED in order to get his heart started,” Leah said. “He had passed out a couple of months ago and at first the other children thought he was just playing around.”
Ryan had been taken to the doctor and checked out. For lack of a better definition Leah said Ryan has an irregular heart rhythm.
“What happened Tuesday had to happen for us to know there was a problem,” she said.
Ryan’s doctor wanted him to wait at least two weeks for surgery to put an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in his chest so he would be able to get stronger.
“The vest they wanted him to wear that would help his heart to restart if he had a problem again before surgery was two inches too long,” Leah said.
When the doctor had an opening in his schedule the decision was made to go ahead and put the ICD in his chest.
“The fact that the doctor had an opening was a totally answered prayer,” Leah said.
Miraculously the doctor had an opening in his schedule, and the decision was made to go ahead and put the ICD in his chest.
Leah added that her 13-year-old son, Sam just stepped up and started comforting and consoling her as if he were the adult.
“I was in a state of shock. We got Ryan on the ambulance and he was taken to Children’s Hospital,” Leah said.
This was her third trip to Children’s. The first time was in 2011 when she and Zane lost a child, then August of this year, and now on Dec. 5.
“One of my teacher friends drove me and Sam to the hospital. Ryan was stable and looked better when we arrived,” Leah said. “There was a lot of medical language happening, but I could see he was breathing and he was stable. He was sedated and I was no longer in a state of panic.”
Leah said that when Ryan had passed out earlier in the year for the first time, the teacher had coached the children on what to do if they saw Ryan act a certain way. They had practiced what to do after the first episode in August.
Leah added that Ryan and Landon have been buddies for a long time.
“They went to Small Wonders Daycare together,” Leah said. “Landon came up to the hospital Sunday to see Ryan. I just hugged his neck and kissed him. I told his mom I might be doing that every time I saw Landon.”
Wednesday three children visited Ryan from his school. Two children from John Ross and one child from Small Wonders came to see him.
“I think it was good for the children to see Ryan being happy and playful,” Leah said.
Leah’s main goal on Thursday was to get him to sit up.
“My main concern is the chest tubing,” Leah said. “If he is sitting up the tube can drain faster. It has been very painful for Ryan.”
Early of the family and doctors thought the problems Ryan was having were seizure-related.
“My mom had epileptic seizures and I passed out when I was young,” Leah said. “The results of the EEG showed half of a second of a 30 minute time period that was questionable, and the doctors thought it was an anomaly. An EKG in August showed his heart rhythm was normal.”
Leah said at this time the doctors are speculating that Ryan might have Long QT Syndrome which deals with the heart valve pumping blood and the heart misfiring.
Leah said this journey, although at this point a short one, has been filled with making connections.
“I have connected with the McMannis family,” Leah said. “Chase is the student at North who had a similar thing happen to him in September.”
He and his family have visited Ryan at the hospital.
“Chase’s mom, Tammy, and I went to Oklahoma State University together,” Leah said. “Connections. We could not do this without the support of family and friends. I am answering texts all day with questions asking what can they do, how can they help? Sam is still being a champ. People are treating him like royalty. What 13-year-old wouldn’t like that?”
Sam attends Cheyenne Middle School where Tammy McMannis works.
“Sam says he feels comfort knowing she is there,” Leah said. “It just so happens when Zane dropped Sam off at school the next day, Tammy was walking in and said, ‘Let’s go to my room.’ Sam said, “It made my heart happy.”
The Hedgers are also friends with the Davey family who have a three-year-old who has heart problems.
“The family came and sat with us,” Leah said. “I have been an educator in Edmond for 21 years. One of the speech therapists came to visit. A nurse stopped by the room and said she had gone to John Ross and her fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Utely. I asked her if it might be the same Mrs. Utely sitting in the room and it was.
“The EMSA gentlemen came by and one came back a couple of days ago with tears in his eyes,” Leah said. “He said this is the best Christmas present he could ever receive. They came by again last night and I do believe their hearts are forever changed.”
Leah said she looks forward to sharing more things about what is expected to happen in the future.
“The Children’s Miracle Network has already contacted us and wants Ryan to be part of the program,” Leah said. “Sam has already been helped by PAWS for Purpose, an organization BALTO chose to raise money for a couple of years ago. Seeing that in action, I just think the high school kids need to know how they affect other people and how they are really helping people.
“I hope the high schools never stop doing that. They are changing lives and I am thankful that they started (fundraising for nonprofits) all those years ago.”
Leah said she would like to see a couple more AED devices located around the school because of its size and the way it is laid out.
“The AED is locked in the nurse’s office, and if someone doesn’t have a way to get into the office and back into another part of the school there could be a problem,” Leah said.