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Heroic acts save Lake Geneva college student


Badger grad lucky to be alive



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BADGER HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE and UW-Stout student Ryan Child, second from right, met at the spot with three of the people who helped save his life. They are, from left, University Police Officer Jason Spetz, student David Winger and Officer Lisa Pederson. Winger, another Badger grad, was Child’s roommate.

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October 02, 2012 | 05:00 PM
Ryan Child had less than 10 minutes to live.

Everything had to fall into place.

His roommate had to call 911 right away.

Two campus police officers, who wouldn't normally have been there then, needed to come into view right away.

Someone else had to be passing by at that exact moment to alert the police officers.

And one of the police officers had to have the presence of mind to bypass the 911 process and buy valuable seconds.

Had all those things not happened within a few minutes, this would be an obituary instead of a story about heroism and some remarkable strokes of luck.

As one of the police officers said, "The stars aligned just perfectly that day."

Ryan, a Badger High School graduate, is back in Lake Geneva now and able to reflect on his brush with death.

Here's the story, pieced together by those who were there:

Ryan was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. His roommate was fellow Badger grad, David Winger. It was Thursday, Sept. 13. Ryan had gone to classes that afternoon and felt his heart racing, as it had a couple times last summer.

He felt better by the time he went to dinner. Then he went to the Stout University Foundation Scholarship Award ceremony. There, Ryan received $3,750 in scholarships from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association to further his studies in the food and beverage industry.

A photo shows Ryan, dressed casually, standing aside Winger and other participants in the ceremony. The picture was taken at 6:07 p.m.

"I don't remember any of it," Ryan said during an interview with the Regional News this week. Asked how he was, he said "about 85 to 90 percent."

After the event, Ryan and Winger started to walk back to their dorm. It was 8:40 p.m. They never made it.

"Oh … I'm going down," Ryan was heard to say.

He'd suffered cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped.

That's when everything seemed to fall into place on this lucky Thursday the 13th.

Winger immediately dialed 911 on his cell phone. The call was made at 8:41.04.

He looked up and saw two campus police officers — Jason Spetz and Lisa Pederson — emerge from a building. As it turned out, the two wouldn't have been there had it not been for a meeting they were both attending. If it wasn't for that meeting, they also wouldn't have been together.

That's when someone, who has yet to be identified, happened to be passing by. Winger told the anonymous passerby to ask the police officers for help.

As they ran toward Ryan, Spetz called using a frequency that bypassed 911 to directly communicate with the ambulance crew. He didn't know exactly what had happened, but he sensed it was serious.

When the Spetz and Pederson reached Ryan they determined he wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

"He was not getting air," Pederson recalled. "He was taking his last breaths."

To top off this barrage of lucky happenstance, Pederson and Spetz not only knew CPR but had taught it. The two officers teamed up to administer CPR, Pederson doing the pushing and Spetz keeping Ryan's air waves open.

Later, Pederson asked Ryan if his chest hurt. It had. She explained that she was afraid she was losing him and pushed extra hard. It was a hurt Ryan has no hard feelings about.

When the ambulance crew arrived, they used a defibrillator on Ryan.

Ryan later learned that contrary to TV medical shows — where patients are shocked multiple times — protocol dictates that patients only get shocked twice.

So when the first shock didn't work, Ryan's hold on life seemed even more perilous.

"I kept saying, 'Come on, Ryan, you can do this,'" Pederson said.

After the second shock, Ryan started to breath.

David had called 911 at 8:41.04 p.m. The ambulance arrived at 8:46.38 p.m. It left the scene at 8:57.54 p.m.

Every minute had counted, but Ryan's ordeal was not yet over.

Ryan was taken to a local hospital and then flown by helicopter to a larger hospital nearby.

Pederson had the undesirable job of contacting Ryan's parents. She used David's phone, so when Ryan's father, Rob answered, he said: "How's my other son?"

But that's when Pederson had to give him the news. She told him that Ryan was unresponsive, but "in good hands."

Ryan's mother Ursula and his father left Lake Geneva and headed for the hospital, as did Ryan's sister Alexia, who came from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where she's a student..

Ursula remembers little about the 3 ½ hour drive from Lake Geneva to Ryan's hospital room.

"I was in shock," she said. "I wasn't thinking about anything. I just prayed. I kept on making promises to God."

Ursula recalled her husband beseeching, "Take me, not my son."

Ryan recalls being conscience for a short time while at the first facility, and he remembers being on the "cold stretcher" boarding the helicopter. The next thing he knew, he woke up to see 15 people over him in the hospital room.

They kept on asking him the same questions to make sure his brain had not been affected. It hadn't, Ryan said.

Officer Pederson followed the developments closely, Ursula said. "She was so sweet. She said 'I'm a mom, too.' "

The escape from death occurred on a Thursday and he came home the following Wednesday. Ryan said it was the longest week of his life.

Ryan has decided to withdraw from Stout, take some classes at Gateway Technical College and return to college next fall.

After several tests, the doctor who worked on Ryan found that he had a genetic abnormality called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening in the muscle of the heart that affects blood flow.

Ironically, it's a disease that tends to strike young athletes. It causes a thickening of the heart muscle.Several NBA players died from it. Guard Cuttino Mobley recently announced his retirement because his condition worsened. Older fans will remember Hank Gathers a college basketball player who died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy after collapsing in the court in 1989.

Ryan had an upper chamber that was about twice the size of a normal person's.

While he's only 18 years old, Ryan is now equipped with apparatus commonly associated with people several times his age — a combination pacemaker-defibrillator. It's implanted in his upper left chest. Two wires are threaded through veins into his heart. Ryan joked that he's "bionic."

The condition often strikes without warning. His doctor said it is the most common cause of sudden death in young people.

"Kids should know about this," Ursula said.

Because of his fatigue the previous summer, Ryan had his heart checked out then but the results were inconclusive.

Because the disease can run in families, Ryan's sister — an All-American in the hammer throw — and mother were tested while they were at the hospital. There were no signs of the disease.

And how will this affect Ryan long-term?

He can't participate in contact sports and his equipment will cause the alarm to go off if he goes through an airport medal detector so he'd have to be patted down before boarding a plane.

Despite his trauma, Ryan was still able to crack a smile.

"Well, I can't work as an arc welder," he joked.

His mother feels blessed that Ryan survived.

"God has a plan for him," she said.

Editor's Note: Much of the information and some of the quotes for this story were provided by Jerry Poling, assistant director of communications for UW-Stout.

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