As a member of the Terre Haute Police Department, Dan Walls has dealt with crisis and seen the face of death all too often.
View First Aid Corps World Map of AED Locations in a larger map
But he never anticipated that one day, a life-and-death situation would involve his own son, Daniel, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Chauncey Rose Middle School.
Daniel Walls the Survivor
Detective Walls happens to be the school’s police liaison officer.
During a Jan. 3 basketball practice at the school, Daniel suddenly collapsed. In the words of principal Greg Gauer, “It went south pretty quickly.”
Soon, the boy stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating. His face turned blue, and then purple.
Quick action by school personnel, who used an Automated External Defibrillator and CPR, saved the boy’s life. The Terre Haute Fire Department and Union Hospital emergency room staff also played critical roles. Those involved are calling it the “Miracle at Chauncey Rose.”
Daniel’s heartbeat and breathing had been restored before he was airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children, where he remained for five days. He was back in school Jan. 12.
While he now has a defibrillator implanted in his chest, he is otherwise OK. As it turns out, the otherwise perfectly healthy 14-year-old had sudden cardiac arrest.
This is Gauer’s first year as a principal, and the life-threatening situation involving one of his students is one he will never forget.
As events unfolded, “I was scared to death for him. I thought a few times we lost him. We all did,” Gauer recalled. “Several of us in the gym were hoping and praying we were doing the right thing at the right time … I think the good Lord was with us at Chauncey Rose that day.”
The basketball workout was typical, nothing out of the ordinary, but soon after it began, Daniel collapsed, according to Doug Stagg, the eighth-grade basketball coach.
Initially, school officials thought it might have been a seizure, but the youth had no history of it and no other health problems, according to family.
Emergency responders were en route, but Daniel’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. “He [Daniel] turned blue quickly and purple even more quickly. We needed to make a move,” Gauer said. “He had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped. We checked his vitals, everywhere we could for a pulse.”
Daniel had none.
At that point, Gauer and Stagg knew they had to react. Gauer began chest compressions and Stagg got the AED, which was close by.
Gauer and Richard Moothery, an education assistant, removed Daniel’s shirt, while Stagg put pads with sensors on Daniel’s chest. “Once the machine had declared it necessary to shock him, I knew it was a really serious situation. The machine won’t shock anyone unless there is no rhythm,” Gauer said.
After that, Gauer and Stagg continued CPR — Gauer did chest compressions, while Stagg administered breaths of air.
Although it “seemed like an eternity,” Gauer said, the Terre Haute Fire Department quickly arrived and took over. The emergency responders used breathing equipment, continued chest compressions and got him into an ambulance.
Gauer rode in the ambulance with Daniel, and on the way to Union Hospital, the defibrillator shocked the boy again.
Detective Walls had gone to pick up his daughter and planned to return to Chauncey Rose when he learned his son had collapsed.
En route to the school, he received another call informing him of the gravity of the situation.
He turned his police lights and siren on, praying as he drove. When he arrived, his son was lying on the gym floor, a defibrillator had administered a shock and Terre Haute Fire Department emergency responders were preparing to take his son to the hospital.
Walls, who also is a pastor and chaplain, laid his hands on his son and prayed. “I’ve seen the face of death too often. I saw it on my son’s face,” he said. As he prayed, “I asked God to touch his life.”
Gauer said he, too, was praying. “Everybody in that gym was praying in their own way,” he said.
What happened that day was nothing short of a miracle, Dan Walls said.
“God did a miracle and had everything in place to sustain his life,” he said. “If it was going to happen, it happened in the right place.”
Even medical staff at Riley Hospital agreed the quick response saved Daniel’s life.
Daniel’s father praised the school district leadership for deciding to install AEDs in all schools, and he praised staff who have been trained on how to use them. “It saved my son’s life,” he said.
Daniel doesn’t remember what happened.
His father says there was “some depletion of oxygen to the brain, but it was minimal.” There was some short-term memory loss, but doctors say he will be fine. He had no heart damage.
Doctors did have to put an implantable defibrillator in his chest, something he will have for the rest of his life. “Kids that have this are prone to have it again,” Dan Walls said.
Daniel’s mother, Felicia, a teacher at Turkey Run Junior-Senior High, said she is “thankful and overjoyed for the quick response of Coach Stagg and Principal Gauer.”
The school community also provided Daniel with much support while he was recovering, and that included cards and e-mails. It meant a lot to Daniel to know that people cared about him, she said.
Although Daniel doesn’t remember what transpired, he said he’s amazed by what happened. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive,” he said.
While he’s somewhat disappointed he probably can’t continue with athletics, “I have to go on with life,” the 14-year-old said, and he has other interests.
“God has other plans for your life,” Dan Walls told his son.