Death and public speaking are often listed among mankind’s greatest fears and, at the age of 9, Ryan Barnett has already faced both head on.
Nearly dying of sepsis, a severe condition that kills an estimated 225,000 Americans each year, Barnett told of the experience on April 25 at a press conference held in the new $130 million pavilion at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, which is credited with saving the boy’s life.
Among those on hand was Dr. Peter Silver, chief of the pediatric critical care unit, who spoke about celebrating both the opening of the new building and Ryan who “came in in March as a critically ill child. Look at him now.”
According to Silver, a patient could be well one day and critical the next. “This could happen to just about anybody,” he said, indicating that Barnett was lucky that the disease did not spread to his brain, as it sometimes does.
“He did well in a lot of ways. He survived intact,” the doctor added.
It all began in March, when, like so many others, Barnett came down with what was considered a typical case of the flu.
He had been living with auto-immune hepatitis, a disease of the liver. Unbeknownst to those treating him, flu-fighting medicine was actually further suppressing his ability to fight bacteria.
About a month ago, he began complaining of symptoms of a stomach virus. When his mother, Kathleen Ryan, took him to a local hospital in Greenlawn, LI, they were told it was just that and nothing to worry about. But by the next night, the pain was so severe that Ryan’s mother brought him back to the hospital, where it was decided he should stay overnight.
The next morning, blood tests showed that Barnett had sepsis, a condition caused by the body’s overblown response to an infection or injury that leads to organ failure, shock and death in up to 35 percent of its victims.
He was transported by ambulance to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Cohen Children’s. Slipping into a coma, he was put on three IVs of antibiotics. Three days later, he sat up for the first time and, on April 8, was well enough to return to school.
As if that experience weren’t enough, Ryan became the star attraction when he and his parents gathered in front of about a dozen members of the media to publicly thank the critical care team for its quick actions in saving his life.
He said that when he first came out of the coma, “I was about to freak out,” finding it all “very scary.”
But after spending a week at Cohen Children’s, he was well enough to go home. “I could see my friends again. I could go back to school again,” he said, adding that the return was “sort of weird.”
While he is still unable to get back to playing his favorite sport, Silver predicted that “soon he’ll be back to lacrosse.”
Calling the ordeal “the worst thing we’ve ever experienced,” Kathleen Ryan beamed. “We have our son back. He talks back to us. When he was in a coma all we wanted was to hear him be sarcastic.”
And when the glare of television cameras and a slew of questions from reporters came his way last Thursday, Ryan, who will turn 10 on May 8, faced the media with just the slightest trepidation, admitting it was less scary than the ordeal he had already been through.