Saving Ryan: UW-Stout student survives cardiac arrest

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (PRESS RELEASE - UW-STOUT) -- If it had happened on Friday the 13th, maybe it wouldn’t have turned out quite as well.

As it was, Thursday, Sept. 13, ended up being the luckiest day in the young life of University of Wisconsin-Stout student Ryan Child.

It almost was his last day.

Ryan had gone to his classes that day as usual, but at about 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. his heart began racing out of control, as it had done a couple of times last summer. When his heartbeat returned to normal he felt like he had “run a marathon,” he said.

The episodes were unsettling, but he kept on with his day. The 18-year-old freshman from Lake Geneva, in southeastern Wisconsin, felt better by the time he went to dinner with friends at Merle M. Price Commons on campus.

Then it was off to an event he definitely didn’t want to miss — the Stout University Foundation Scholarship Award Ceremony in the Memorial Student Center. He received $3,750 in three scholarships from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. The annual event was attended by about 500 people, including many students who were honored.

At 6:07 p.m. he had his picture taken at the event with David Winger, a fellow freshman and friend from Lake Geneva Badger High School, and two other students who received WRA scholarships. Dressed in a jeans and a plaid shirt, Ryan was smiling and looked healthy.

Ryan loves culinary arts and plans to pursue a career in the food and beverage industry. He is majoring in hotel, restaurant and tourism management.

After the ceremony Ryan and Winger headed across Third Street E. toward their rooms in South Hall.

Ryan never made it.

About halfway to South Hall, at 8:40 p.m., Ryan suddenly felt weak and his legs gave way. He muttered “Oh … I’m going down” and collapsed face down on the sidewalk and grass between the Curran, Kranzusch, Tustison and Oetting housing complex and South Hall. He was in cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped.

At that very moment, when his day and life took a turn for the worse, when he was minutes from dying, everything quickly began to head in the right direction for Ryan.

Thanks to quick thinking by Winger, help from an unidentified student and trained personnel from the University Police Department, Menomonie Fire Rescue and two hospitals, Ryan beat the odds of surviving cardiac arrest.

He was resuscitated and, after several days in the hospital, is doing well.

A little good fortune didn’t hurt either. “The stars aligned just perfectly that day,” said Officer Lisa Pederson, of UW-Stout, who helped save Ryan.

Saving Ryan

Here is a chronological narration of what happened that night:

8:41:04 p.m. — When Ryan passed out, Winger quickly dialed 911 on his cell phone.
Then, he looked around the campus mall. He was in a flat area between several residence halls.

To his surprise, he spotted two UW-Stout police officers about 100 yards away. He told another student passing by to run and ask for help; Winger then motioned and yelled for help once the officers saw him.

Pederson and her second shift partner, Officer Jason Spetz, happened to be coming out of South Hall. They aren’t usually together while on duty but, as luck would have it, drove to South Hall together that evening for an appointment.

8:43:08 p.m. — Spetz, not knowing what had happened to Ryan but not taking any chances because he knew the importance of time in situations like these, immediately radioed the Dunn County E911 Center. He used the Menomonie Police Department frequency on his radio.
He and Pederson began to run toward Ryan and Winger.

8:45:12 p.m. — The ambulance was about six blocks away at the Fire Department station on Main Street W. Winger’s call to 911 still was being processed, but after Spetz’s call paramedics were on the move, their siren blaring as they headed down Broadway Street toward South Hall.

When Pederson and Spetz reached Child and turned him over, they quickly realized the seriousness of the situation, especially after Winger mentioned that Child had complained about his heart that day. Pederson teaches CPR and Spetz used to teach CPR as a member of the fire department.

They saw that Child wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse. He was in what is called agonal respiration, or gasping. “He was not getting air. He was taking his last breaths,” Pederson said.

Spetz radioed again to paramedics to update them that the situation was life-and-death, and so they would know what equipment they would need when they arrived.

Acting as a team, Pederson did chest compressions while Spetz held Ryan’s airway open.

8:46:38 p.m. — After the first set of compressions, the ambulance arrived on the campus mall and fire department emergency medical technicians shocked Ryan with a defibrillator.

Pederson then did another set of compressions and Ryan was shocked a second time.

“I kept saying, ‘Come on, Ryan, you can do this,’ ” Pederson recalled saying.

Suddenly, after the second shock, Ryan began breathing.

In about five minutes, the clock that had begun ticking toward the end of Ryan’s life miraculously had been reset.

8:57:54 p.m. — The ambulance left the scene. Ryan was taken to Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie and later flown in the Mayo One helicopter to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

Lisa Pederson had the tough task of calling Ryan’s parents, Ursula and Rob Child, to tell them what had happened to their son and that he was in the hospital but not out of danger. The Childs immediately drove from Lake Geneva to Eau Claire. Their daughter, Alexia, drove from UW-Oshkosh where she is a student.

A short time after Ryan was taken away, Pederson was called by Menomonie Fire Department Battalion Chief Dennis Klass telling her she should come to the hospital in Menomonie. She feared the worst.

“We know these things don’t always turn out well. When I got there, Denny said, ‘Lisa, he’s sitting up and talking,’ ” Pederson said.

Ryan recalls moments of consciousness over the next few hours, being in the ambulance and in the helicopter. He had no sense of what he had gone through until waking up at the hospital in Eau Claire with several people around him. He remembers being told that he was going to be OK and that his family was on the way.

Treatment and recovery

When Ryan reached Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Dr. Vien Le, a cardiologist, at first was surprised to see how good Ryan looked in the emergency room. “I would not have thought he suffered a cardiac arrest,” Le said.

“That was a testament to how good the first response team was. Unfortunately, most patients who suffer cardiac arrest out of the hospital do not survive. I think Ryan was lucky that he was with a friend and that the first responder team arrived promptly,” Le said.

Le first ordered an electrocardiogram of Ryan’s heart, and it was abnormal. Then, he quickly ordered an echocardiogram, which is “invaluable in terms of giving prompt information about the heart function and structure,” Le said.

Le discovered that Ryan has a genetic abnormality called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or an inappropriate thickening in the muscle of the heart that hinders blood flow. Last summer at home, after his previous abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, Ryan also had undergone an echocardiogram but without definitive findings.

In a normal heart, the left ventricle should be about 1 centimeter thick. Ryan’s left ventricle is 1.8 to 1.9 centimeters thick. “That’s considered to be severe,” Le said.

It’s the type of heart condition that, undetected, has been attributed to killing many young athletes. “Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden death in young people, preadolescent and adolescent children,” Le said.

Ryan played baseball in high school but hadn’t planned to try out for any athletic teams at UW-Stout.

Ryan’s sister, Alexia, is an eight-time all-American and four-time national champion in the hammer throw at UW-Oshkosh. The night she arrived at the hospital in Eau Claire, she and her mother — there’s a history of heart problems in Ursula’s family — underwent an ultrasound test by Le to see if they have the same condition as Ryan; they don’t.

On Monday, Sept. 17, Ryan had surgery at the hospital. A combination pacemaker-defibrillator was implanted under his skin in his upper left chest. Two wires from the device are threaded through veins into his heart.

He will have a pacemaker-defibrillator the rest of his life. It will regulate his heartbeat if it gets too low and shock him if it gets too high. “Any patient with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy who survives cardiac arrest needs a defibrillator. That’s the only therapy that’s been proven to prevent death and improve chances of survival,” Le said.

Le isn’t worried about Ryan’s future. “Ryan will do just fine. He has a lot to offer. Most of these patients have a good outcome,” Le said.

Ryan has been told to avoid heavy lifting and contact sports and must take a blood thinner the rest of his life but otherwise can be active and raise his heart rate without worrying about another potential fatal attack, he said.

Because of his health setback, Ryan has withdrawn from UW-Stout for the rest of the semester. He plans to take online and other courses from home in the spring and return to UW-Stout in fall 2013.

A couple of days after his implant surgery, Ryan was discharged and returned to campus — still weak from the surgery and his rib cage sore from the CPR. He and his mother gathered up his belongings.

He also walked slowly to the spot on campus where he fell. There, he met with Winger, Pederson and Spetz. They recounted the events of the night they helped save Ryan.

This time Ryan was upright and talking. “It’s enough for me today just seeing you here,” Pederson said.

Ryan and his mom thanked the rescue team. “You did a wonderful job. We’re very blessed,” Ursula said. “Will his life get back to normal? Absolutely.”

Ryan still is getting used to the new normal in his life, but he’s not complaining.

“Was I lucky? Oh yea,” Ryan said. “My doctor kept saying, ‘If you were by yourself that night, you wouldn’t be here right now.’ ”

UW-Stout student Ryan Child, second from right in red sweatshirt, met at the spot with three of the people who helped save his life the night he had a cardiac arrest. They are, from left, University Police Officer Jason Spetz, student David Winger and Officer Lisa Pederson.
A short time before he had a cardiac arrest, UW-Stout student Ryan Child, third from left, received three scholarships in a ceremony at the Memorial Student Center. Second from right is his friend, David Winger, who was with Child later that evening and who dialed 911. The others in the photo are, from left, Bryan Mowry, managing director of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association; Jake Hoffman, student scholarship winner; Kalli Hoffman, student scholarship winner; and Lynn McDonough, WRA chairman.
Dr. Vien Le, cardiologist, Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire

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