When a high school clash turned violent, Shanise Rowan didn’t know if she’d ever see her son alive again.
Reyez Rowan was in his high school’s library when he was stabbed twice — once in the abdomen and once in the leg, a wound that severed his femoral artery and immediately resulted in massive blood loss.
Shanise had been waiting outside for Reyez to come out for lunch. When he didn’t show, she went inside to find him.
“When they took me to him, it was about five minutes after,” she recalled. “He was already barely conscious, like very grey and yellow. He was barely awake when I got to him. He had already bled out a significant amount within those five minutes.”
Authorities soon arrived and separated everyone involved.
“The police wouldn’t let me near him, so I didn’t know if my son was alive or not,” said Shanise.
At the nearest STARS base, a 15-minute helicopter flight away, flight nurse Shell Odenbach and flight paramedic Justin Mazzolini were on shift when the call came in.
“As soon as you hear those words ‘school stabbing,’ your heart sinks,” said Shell. “I’m a mother, and the first thing I think about is kids and this shouldn’t happen at a school or anywhere.”
Under the oversight and direction of STARS transport physician Craig Domke, Shell and Justin immediately gathered supplies and loaded into the helicopter, along with Claire McNiven, a pediatric intensive care fellow who was job-shadowing for the day.
“When we landed on scene,” said Shell, “we landed right at the school, which is also a different feeling, to land at a place that’s supposed to be safe for kids.
“Paramedics met us there. We walked into the ambulance, and my partner Justin and I looked at each other, and we thought, ‘We’re in a lot of trouble here.’”
She said those words over the radio while she and Justin expertly set to work helping Reyez. That urgent phrase spoke volumes.
“It was something we didn’t have to explain to Dr. Domke,” said Justin. “That statement, ‘We’re in trouble here,’ relayed to him that we were dealing with a high hemorrhagic shock. He had bled out a fair amount of his blood volume, his heart rate was dangerously low, his blood pressure was basically unreadable. He was very close to potentially going into cardiac arrest from simple blood loss.”
Dr. Domke remembers sensing the gravity over the radio waves.
“Knowing that it was an air medical crew that’s got a lot of experience,” he said, “and has seen a lot of sick traumas, for them to say, ‘We’re in big trouble here,’ it just flicked a switch for me that this was one of these big jobs where we needed everything to happen really quickly. At that point, I basically just gave them a few pieces of advice: use all the blood you have first, try to get hemorrhage control, and just get him here as fast as you can, and I will get everything else ready.”
He activated the trauma centre’s massive hemorrhage protocol, readying as much blood as possible; he also alerted the staff pediatric surgeon and asked to secure an anesthetist. He then took a unit of blood and a team of nurses to the hospital’s helipad, where they met the incoming STARS flight and immediately began treatment as Reyez went directly into the operating room, bypassing the emergency department altogether.
“I think that was massive, and I think that’s truly what made a difference in Reyez’s survival,” said Justin.
Reyez would ultimately need 39 units of blood before he was out of surgery. As he recovered, his mom stayed by his side. Claire McNiven, the fellow who was a ride-along on the mission, was part of Reyez’s hospital care.
“In his coma, I was talking to him,” said Shanise. “I didn’t know if he could hear me or not, but I was talking to him and I told him ‘Don’t give up’ in my Cree language, and he nodded at me in his coma.”
Reyez remembers hearing the Cree word “ahkamêyimok.”
“I couldn’t really see anything,” he said. “But for a couple of seconds I could hear everything that was going on around me. Then I heard her come over to me and say that — ‘Don’t give up, I love you, I won’t be far,’ — so I just nodded my head, and next thing I remember, I woke up the next day and I see her sitting there.”
Six weeks later he was out of the hospital and on the golf course. Later, Reyez and Shanise visited the STARS base and reconnected with Shell, Justin and Claire.
“Seeing him in person,” said Shell, “walking in with his mom — Justin and I, we just looked at each other and we had tears in our eyes, tears of joy. The amount of joy that we felt that day was something we’ll never forget.”
Justin called Reyez’s mission a career-defining moment.
“We thought and talked and discussed this call for months afterwards,” he said. “So, to see him come in that day was just a wonderful closure to the whole event.”
Shanise wiped a tear.
“I really appreciate STARS for saving my son’s life,” she said. “Without them, I don’t think I would have him. He’s my only son, my only child; I’m so thankful that he’s alive and he’s doing well. I appreciate STARS for everything they’ve done.”