It started like any other day for Paramedic Brad Rowell and EMT Scott O’Brien. July 11 was not an ordinary day as they would soon find out. The pair had just wrapped up a medical call and were in their ambulance heading for lunch when a call came in that changed everything. The pair were dispatched to a report of a child drowning; no other information was available. They immediately raced to the scene. If the crew had been at their station, they would be across town from the call, but now they were just a few minutes away. Brad was driving the ambulance and, as he put it, from the time they arrived on scene it was almost a blur. He jumped out of the truck, and ran straight for the child. Adults had pulled a young boy out of the pool and started CPR. Brad picked up the child and carried him running him back to the truck.
The young boy they would learn was Michael Sloan, a fun loving six-year old from White House, Tennessee. But right now in the back of the ambulance that didn’t matter. Michael had been unconscious without a pulse for an unknown amount of time. The two medics from Nashville Fire Department began frantically performing the actions that ultimately saved young Michael’s life. Whenever a medical call is dispatched, a fire unit is sent to assist the ambulance crew, but Brad and Scott were so close they were now short handed working to save Michael while waiting on additional manpower. An emergency medical technician was performing chest compressions on the young boy while Paramedic Brad Rowell was rescue breathing, when the door opened and Goodlettsville Police officer Jennifer Hancock asked what she could do. The already cramped ambulance became packed when they practically dragged her into the back.
With Officer Hancock performing the compressions now and EMT O’Brien rescue breathing, Paramedic Rowell was able to begin intubating Michael, opening his airway. The trio worked tirelessly on the delicate procedure. Brad stated he actually hadn’t intubated a patient in a long time, but they just kept praying and felt the hand of God with them as they began the process. The procedure was smooth as could be. At the same time, Michael’s pulse returned. Michael began gasping for air. Without the help from Officer Hancock, the pair would never have been able to intubate alone. With Michael’s heart now beating on its own again, and the crew just assisting with his breathing, it was time to get Michael to the hospital.
The engine from Nashville Fire arrived and Officer Hancock left to make way for the crews. IV lines were started and Michael was prepared for transport. At this point, Jennifer put the call out to her fellow officers, and Goodlettsville Police blocked every intersection between the home and the interstate, to say that seconds counted now was an understatement and Michael’s life could be the difference between stopping at a red light or rolling straight through (Emergency vehicles are required to assure an intersection is clear even with lights and siren on). Scott O’Brien contacted fire communications to let them know they were coming into Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Communications advised him that West End and 21st Avenue were shut down due to the Vice President being in the area. Scott radioed back, “You have 3 options: Let me through, Divert me to Skyline Medical Center (which isn’t prepared as a pediatric trauma center) or I am running through the streets anyway.” The streets were opened in time and Michael arrived at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital with no delay. Scott later joked that he always heard Federal Prisons were nice and it would have been worth running through the motorcade to get Michael to the hospital.
Normally once a patient is transferred to the hospital, the crew returns to duty and that is the “end” of the call. They may get an update in passing, but otherwise they don’t keep in touch. This was no ordinary call. Anytime a child is involved, it tugs at the heartstrings more. Scott and Brad’s unit was taken out of service to allow them some downtime to recover. They were given the option to take the rest of their shift off, but knew the best way to cope would be to take some time then get back to the job they love. It was during this time that Officer Hancock called the guys. Jennifer had just left Vanderbilt, she told them they really needed to go up to the hospital. Scott was initially hesitant but agreed to go with her.
When Scott O’Brien arrived at the hospital he began to get a clearer picture of young Michael. The sports fan. In talking with Michael’s dad, PJ, O’Brien learned about Michael’s love of all things Vanderbilt and hockey. Scott thought maybe Michael would love a Nashville Fire Department hat and hockey shirt, so he called one of the Captains of the team, Craig Calvacca. He told Craig about the young hockey fan fighting for his life and asked if he might be able to get a hat and shirt for Michael. Scott asked Craig if he would just leave them at the firehall and he would come pick them up. Craig said, “I’ll do you one better.” Scott asked what “one better” was, and Craig said he would get with the team and they would come visit Michael and deliver the items in person.
Meanwhile for Michael, the prognosis was not good. The doctors said he may never open his eyes or even wiggle a finger anymore. PJ and his wife Timberly never gave up. His hospital room became a monument of sorts to Michael’s love of sports. The room was soon covered in Vanderbilt Commodores and Nashville Predators memorabilia. Coach Derek Mason and a slew of players from the Vanderbilt football team came to visit, bringing Michael his own team jersey. Mike Fisher from the Nashville Predators sent a signed stick. Family and friends made sure Michael was surrounded by Vandy, Preds and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gear. Then White House and entire communities in Middle Tennessee began pouring out support as word spread about Michael’s condition.
When asked about the support, PJ Sloan had this to say, “I’ve been real surprised, a lot of times in todays society we see a story on the news, say that’s too bad, and move on. So for the community to come out as been huge surprise.”
PJ went on to say in regards to the responders on July 11th, “I owe [Hancock, Rowell, and O’Brien] everything, I literally owe them everything. My life, my son’s life, my family. I can never thank them enough.”
When Scott O’Brien heard this, he was floored. O’Brien wanted to be clear that the Sloans have more than thanked them, and they never need to feel indebted to the rescuers. As a matter of fact he spoke for all three of them when he said that getting to keep up with Michael and become friends with the family, as well as Michael’s daily improvement is all the thanks they ever need.
Michael was moved from Vanderbilt to a rehab facility in Atlanta, Georgia. But for Scott O’Brien, Brad Rowell, and the NFD hockey players, Michael and his family were still heavy on their hearts. Around this same time Baltimore Fire Department’s hockey team reached out to the Nashville Fire Department team. They wanted to come to Nashville and play a game. The fire teams always play for charity. Baltimore wanted to know if Nashville had a charity they could use. Co-captain Scott Wrenn thought Michael Sloan was an easy choice. Wrenn was from the White House community and once he found out Michael was a hockey fan and a Vandy fan, it was easy choice. Co-Captain Craig Calvacca sent it out to the rest of the team and it was set. Baltimore would come to Nashville and play a game with all proceeds benefiting the Michael Sloan family. Scott reached out to AJ Rockwell of the Nashville Predators and told him what they wanted to do. He said AJ did not think twice. The entire organization seemed to stop everything they were doing- in the middle of free agency- and make this game happen.
Saturday, September 27th, directly following the 7pm Nashville Predators pre-season game facing the Florida Panthers, the benefit game will be played. The Nashville Predators have set up a special link for fans to purchase tickets for the pre-season game. Fans may visit www.NashvillePredators.com/MichaelSloan and purchase lower bowl seats for only $25. When this link is used, $15 from every ticket purchase is given to the NFD Hockey team for their fundraiser for Michael. After the Preds and Panthers game, Nashville Fire and Baltimore Fire will take the ice. Currently former Predators J.P Dumont, Dan Keczmer, and Stu Grimson are slated to suit up for the game as well. Hockey fans will be encouraged to stay and enjoy this free game.
“We aren’t as fast as the Predators, but we are better looking,” said Wrenn when asked what fans can expect to see. “The games are very competitive and Baltimore is a very competitive team. No one likes to lose. But at the end of the game, it’s not about us. It’s about the charity, and how much we raise.”
On September 2nd, Michael returned home from Atlanta. He is back with his mom, Timberly; Dad, PJ; and sister Katelyn. Michael is defying odds daily. He is in outpatient rehab back at Vanderbilt. But when not in rehab, Michael is back laughing with the Ninja Turtles and getting frustrated watching his sports teams. On September 18th, Michael even spent 10 minutes walking in a special harness on the treadmill.
If you are at the Predators game on September 27th, make sure you stick around for the fire department game. Donations will be accepted throughout the arena, and volunteers will be walking around the facility with fire boots to fill with donations. Among those in attendance Saturday night will be some very special guests. Paramedic Brad Rowell, EMT Scott O’Brien, and Officer Jennifer Hancock. They will be joined by Michael Soan, if he will sit still long enough.
For tickets to the Nashville Predators “Michael Sloan Night” please visit www.nashvillepredators.com/MichaelSloan
For information on more ways to help, please visit the “Pray for Michael” Facebook page, here.