May 8, 2013

Calm and Cool Nine-Year-Old Helps Save Mom in Washington

Bryce Smithlin, a nine-year-old student at Stewart Elementary School in Puyallup, WA helped his father save his mother’s life when her heart stopped due to noncompaction cardiomyopathy.

This young man kept his cool while his father performed CPR on the non-reponsive Kyra Smithlin. Bryce held the phone to his father’s ear while 911 talked Tony Smithlin through how to administer CPR.

The article below comes from the Puyallup School District website’s District News section:

Stewart Elementary student helps save mother’s life

The chilling 911 call begins with a man screaming his wife’s name as she lay motionless on the bed.

Tony Smithlin’s 9-year-old son Bryce, who just moments earlier was cuddling in bed with his mother when he heard her gasp, holds the phone to his father’s ear so he can hear instructions on how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Bryce keeps a tight grip on the phone as he watches his father begin to rhythmically press on his mother’s chest.

A short time passes before Kyra takes some intermittent breaths, but Tony nervously tells the dispatcher her pulse is “really, really weak.”

The Stewart Elementary third grader can be heard faintly in the background. In the chaos going on around him, he says to his mother in a shaky yet determined voice, “Mom, it’s going to be OK.”

Within minutes, the dispatcher announces the fire truck should be at or near the house.

Tony tells Bryce to run out and meet the emergency crew, which the boy does without hesitation.

Once inside, the firefighters and paramedics race upstairs to continue the lifesaving efforts.

The 911 call is just the beginning of the story of a young boy whose courage has forever touched the lives of his parents, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue personnel, and MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital staff.

What happened on December 15 even brought Brent Grabinski to tears — something the veteran firefighter and emergency medical technician said “just doesn’t happen in my profession. We are trained to handle most any situation and not get emotional.”

Bryce’s father took a long pause as he described what happened next as emergency crew members worked frantically to save his 47-year-old wife.

Tears streaming down his face, he recounted how he and Bryce went downstairs to give the paramedics and firefighters more room.

“Bryce was sitting close to me,” Tony said. “He grabbed me by the ears, put his face right up next to mine, and said, ‘No matter what, Dad, we’re going to be OK.’”

The boy’s courage continued in the hospital waiting room, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

“He is an amazing young boy,” said Shannon Pulley, administrative supervisor of MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital. Pulley was called to the emergency room as a code responder when Kyra was wheeled in. She remained with the Smithlin family that day during their time in the emergency room and later in the intensive care unit.

“He remained level-headed and really kept his dad’s courage going,” Pulley said. “It was something to see a boy that age have such strength. In the middle of the whole scenario, he told me in the emergency room, ‘Can you tell my mom I love her?’ It was so important to him that she was notified of that. There is a relationship there that is totally unbreakable.”

Grabinski, the firefighter and emergency medical technician with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, was also impressed with Bryce’s bravery. Grabinski works at Station 72 off Shaw Road in Pierce County.

“It’s scary enough for an adult to call 911, but then he had the courage at that age to hold the phone to his dad’s ear and watch everything that happened with his mom,” he said. “I can’t imagine a 9-year-old going through something like that.”

Grabinski was at Good Samaritan Hospital on another call when Pulley stopped him and said there was a young boy on the fifth floor who wanted to talk to some firefighters.

He and his partner met Bryce in the waiting room, gave him stickers, and praised him for how he handled the 911 call. After walking away, Grabinski said he felt compelled to stop, come back around the corner, and hand Bryce his business card and phone number. He promised to give the boy a tour of the fire station when things calmed down.

“He tugged at my heartstrings,” Grabinski said.

Not long after that, Tony said his wife’s heart stopped. Hospital staff tried 40 times to revive her with defibrillator paddles, as well as with medicine, before he was told there was nothing more to do.

“I went out to the waiting room to tell the family they needed to say their goodbyes,” Tony recalled. “Bryce said, ‘Dad, I want you to tell me the truth,’ and I told him, ‘Mom’s probably not going to make it.’”

Bryce remembers clearly what happened next.

“I climbed up on her bed and said I love you, Mom,” Bryce said. “I said it’s OK to give up if you just can’t make it, but if you can work hard, please do it. I also told her I’m sorry if I was ever bad and that I know you love me.”

As a room full of doctors, nurses, and family members looked on, Kyra’s heart rate and blood pressure started to rise.

Bryce continued to talk to his mother for nearly three hours, his father said, until the boy eventually fell asleep on the bed. While Kyra was unconscious through it all, her vital signs stabilized.

When she did finally awake, Pulley remembers she couldn’t speak but wrote on a paper tablet, “Bryce is amazing.”

Pulley summarized the experience by saying, “In my seven years here, I’ve never seen something like this.”

Kyra spent another 2-1/2 weeks in intensive care before being transferred to Tacoma General Hospital, where she underwent surgery to have a pacemaker and defibrillator installed.

Since then, she has learned that her heart stopped due to noncompaction cardiomyopathy — a rare medical condition she unknowingly had since birth. Symptoms range in severity, and most are result of a poor pumping performance by the heart.

Hailed as a hero

Kyra, who doesn’t remember anything about her emergency at home, or the near death experience in the hospital, returned to work in February. While she gets tired easily, she said she is doing well and is thankful to be alive.

She said her son’s bravery during her ordeal doesn’t surprise her, “because he’s got the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met.” 

Kyra described how several years ago she found Bryce in the front yard holding a sign advertising cookies for sale.

He raised $200 for cancer research that day in memory of a neighbor who died of lung cancer. The boy also participates in the annual Relay for Life cancer fundraiser.

On February 11, Kyra sat in the front row of a Central Pierce Fire & Rescue recognition ceremony in honor of her husband and son.Stewart Elementary Principal Anne Hoban, Bryce’s teacher Stephanie Taylor, school office manager Liz Pederson, and secretary, Colleen Paeper attended the standing-room-only ceremony at Station 60 in Spanaway.

“Bryce is a positive leader who puts the needs of others first,” his teacher said.

The department presented Tony and Bryce with engraved “Life Saving Award” plaques recognizing their “outstanding support by assisting with CPR and saving a life on December 15, 2012.”

A teary-eyed Grabinski, who coordinated the event, presented them each with a plaque and a union coin he had inscribed with their names. Firefighters receive the union coins when they are hired, he explained, and “very seldom does the union give this out to a nonmember.”

“People look to us like we are heroes, but in my eyes this kid is a hero,” Grabinski said.

Life has since returned to normal for Bryce, who likes to play paintball, read joke books, and play with his basset hound “Louie,” his two cats “Gangster” and “Zoomer,” his bearded dragon “Rex,” and his three rats “Fiji,” “Yoshi,” and “Astro.”

He has since taken a tour of the fire station as Grabinski promised and was thrilled when the school principal called his name over the intercom the morning after the award ceremony to tell the school they had a hero amongst them.

To Bryce, it’s much more basic than that.

“I was just helping my mom,” he said. “I had to do what I did. And for people who don’t believe in miracles — hey, I got to see one myself.”

(photos courtesy of Amber Davies)

In addition to Bryce’s inspiring story, HSI wants to give a special shout-out to Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, one of our MEDIC First Aid Training Centers. Wonderful job to everyone involved!

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