Meet Ryan Hutchinson

For Jessica and Andy Hutchinson, April 22, 2017, started out as a typical Saturday in the life of any busy young family. While Jessica ran errands, Andy took their three kids, plus a neighbor’s child, to a sports field near the Air Force base where the Hutchinsons live, to get some exercise and let his daughter, Morgan, practice her soccer skills. Andy vividly remembers Morgan, her younger brother Cameron, and their friend kicking the soccer ball around, while his youngest son, three-year-old Ryan toddled in and out of the action. What might have been a pleasant, forgettable family outing was about to turn into a day neither Andy nor Jessica will ever forget.

“Morgan kicked the ball past one of the goals, so I went to retrieve it,” remembers Andy. “My back was turned for a second, and as I turned around, the soccer goal was mid-fall.” Andy saw the goal go over Cameron’s head, clearing him, barely. There was no time to be relieved however, because in the same moment, he saw little Ryan laying under the fallen net, motionless.

Andy rushed to his son. “The first thing I saw when I picked him up in my arms was that he had the most pronounced swelling across his forehead I’d ever seen. His eyes were open, but as I called out his name, I realized he was completely unconscious. I took a couple steps with him before I realized he wasn’t breathing at all.” Andy called 911 on his cell phone and began doing CPR.

From the terrible moment everything went horribly wrong, Andy says, everything that could go right went as well as it could possibly go. “I was right there, my phone was in my pocket, I had some CPR training, and the first response team was already nearby, on the base.” When the team arrived, and called for an emergency airlift, the helicopter was able to land and take off quickly from the open field, and headed for Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Andy followed in a car with a friend, and Jessica, who happened to be in the vicinity of Arkansas Children’s when she got the phone call, beat both Ryan and Andy to emergency department.

Amid the uncertainty and panic, Jessica remembers being met with compassion by the ER personnel. “I was told that he’d just landed on the roof and that someone would come get me. I just wanted to see my son. I didn’t know what was going on. Someone was holding my hand. There were so many people taking care of him and us.”

The whole time Ryan was in the trauma area, Jessica says she never felt abandoned or ignored. “A couple of nurses stayed near me, explaining what was happening, reassuring me."

“Just as Andy arrived, Dr. Albert came out and said they were taking Ryan to CT and then surgery,” Jessica recalls with emotion. “It was really a tough time because they asked if we would like to see him before they took him. There’s a lot implied in that statement, when your child is so unstable. All the staff was very kind and compassionate. They didn’t have a lot of time to explain, but were able to give the essential information we needed in that moment.”

The bulging that Andy had seen on Ryan’s forehead was caused by the soccer goal coming down on the back of Ryan’s head, causing multiple fractures and pushing part of his skull forward. In surgery, bone fragments were removed from his brain and the skull stabilized. Before Ryan had woken up from the first surgery, it was decided a second operation was necessary to address swelling. Moments before going back, Ryan opened his eyes for the first time since the accident, in response to Jessica’s voice, and looked from his mother to his father. “He knew who we were,” she says. “It was a huge relief. At the same time, heart wrenching that we had to immediately hand him back to the surgeons.”

Ryan spent a week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) after surgery before going to the rehab floor for a month. Jessica appreciates how the PICU nurses were encouraging without sugarcoating information. She also remembers the little gestures of compassion that made a difference, such as covering her with a blanket as she slept next to Ryan on a cool night, knowing that Jessica didn’t want to leave his side. “They were not only looking out for him, but for us as well.”

When Morgan and Cameron were able to visit for first time, Child Life specialists prepared them for what they would see, and how Ryan would be different. And when it was finally time to bring Ryan home, Jessica says that the team took time to answer their questions and dispel their doubts. “As we were about to go, I said to Dr. Albert, ‘I hope we can do this.’ And he said, “I have faith in you guys.’” The Hutchinsons are grateful for the excellent care and support Ryan also received from Dr. Tompkins and Dr. Stephens as well as his nurses and therapists on the 5D Progressive Rehab.

“Ryan’s nurses provided so much support not only in the form of amazing around-the-clock care for Ryan, but in support of our family as well,” explains Jessica. We had just been through the most traumatic event of our lives, almost losing Ryan, and then really had to be taught how to care for our own son again, among lots of other fears. When he woke up after a week of being unconscious, he couldn’t speak, eat or drink. His nurses taught us how to use his equipment, what his daily therapy routines would look like and how to bathe him. While we were confident in their care, they were able to teach us so we could be confident in our care of Ryan.”

Andy, who has become a passionate advocate for soccer goal safety, describes Ryan’s recovery as the journey of “a thousand tiny little steps.” If you met him today, his parents say, you would probably not know he’d ever had the accident. And they say it’s a testament to the environment at Arkansas Children’s that Ryan enjoys going back for checkup visits. And he’s not the only one--big sister Morgan recently expressed a wish to have her birthday party there. “It was a pretty traumatic event for us,” Andy says, “but it says a lot that the kids have such a positive experience with the place.”

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