Sunday, March 22, 2015

Every Story Has A Beginning

I have tried several times over the past few months to begin this blog, but they were unsuccessful.  I would either break down at the retelling of Peyton's story, or write several profane and angered filled entries that I never felt comfortable sharing.  I think today is the day that I begin with something simple.  

The following article appeared in the Woodlands College Park High School  student news paper
The Paladin.  I want to thank the sponsor, Dawna Brawner; Principal,  Dr. Mark Murrell; and editor, Meaghan Noack, for allowing me to tell my story.  

Coach James speaks out about son’s tragic death 
On October 8, 2014, my son Peyton, a 13-year-old 8th grader at Forbes Middle School in Georgetown, came home from school, went into his room, took out belt and hung himself from the ceiling fan. By the time his mother found him, he wasn’t breathing and he had no heart beat. She called 911 and began CPR. As emergency responders arrived, they continued the CPR, and after 25 minutes, were able to restore his heart beat. Unfortunately, he was still not breathing on his own. He was taken to Seton Medical Center Williamson in Round Rock where a breathing tube was inserted.

It was at this point that I became aware of the situation. I was sitting in my truck in the parking lot. I had just gotten off the phone with my wife Lisa, Peyton’s step- mother. I had told her I had to gas
up my truck and pick up our daughter Emmalee, and then I would be home. When my phone rang again, I saw itwas Jacki, my ex-wife and Peyton’s mother. It had been a bad day, was
starting to storm, and a big part of me didn’t want to talk to her, but I took the call. She immediately handed the phone to a police officer who told me what had happened. Disbelief overwhelmed me. My primary concern was Peyton’s condition, and he told me. I was then handed off to one of the EMT’s that had responded. She reiterated what the officer had already told me, and added that I needed to get there as soon as possible, as time was of the essence. I clicked off the call and sat there briefly dumbfounded before losing control. I screamed; I yelled; I cried. I composed myself enough to call my wife and told her what had happened. She told me not to move and that she was on her way to get me. I sat and cried; begged and pleaded with  God to take me instead; and most of all wondered "why?"

Peyton was a good kid. Not an angel, but a good kid. He had endured a lot in his short life. He was two months premature and spent the first 40 days of his life in the hospital. His grandmother died when he was four; and shortly there after, his mother and I divorced. I remarried when he was eight, and now he had to share his father with a new wife and his step brother, Ian. Less than a month after the wed- ding, he lost his beloved Papa. That summer, he and his mother moved to Austin, and my time with him was limited to every other weekend, and six weeks in the summer.

It was also around this time that he began to have issues. He was always smaller than his peers, had red hair, glasses and a very sensitive nature. It immediately made him the target of ridicule. He became frustrated with other students picking on him, made friends selectively and was loyal to them. In addition, he was severely ADHD, so despite his love of learning, school became a struggle for him. Although he had a coach for a father, he never had much interest in athletics. Instead, he preferred reading, Pokemon, anime, Dr. Who and video games.

When he started middle school, we tried to channel his creativity into drama, but he still felt like an outcast. He had a strange sense of humor that didn’t resonate with his peers. He didn’t have any friends, but he was loyal and protective of those that he did have and was constantly seeking justice against those that he felt had wronged him or his friends.

He also began to make statements such as, “I should just kill myself,” or “You would be better off without me,” when he was angry or frustrated. We all assumed it was just his way of trying to deflect our attention from the trouble he had just gotten in. After making the same statement to his mother one night, she called his bluff and took him to one of the local mental health recovery centers. Although he wasn’t admitted, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. His mother got him into counseling, he began to take medication to help with the depression, and even had a girlfriend for a while.

Before he started eighth grade, his mother got a new job teaching in Georgetown, and they moved there. He was excited about going to a smaller school, taking more electives and being an eighth grader. The year seemed to be going well. He tried to make new friends, which as the “new kid” is always difficult, but he seemed to be okay. However, things were going on at school that neither his mother and I were aware of. The last weekend he was with me, he confided in Ian that he was being picked on by other kids. The day he chose to take his own life, he had called the kid chat hot line at his school and reported another student for bullying him.

Almost five hours after receiving the call, and fighting traffic and weather, Lisa, Emmy and I arrived at the Dell Children’s Medical Center. We made our way to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We were admitted, and found his room. What I saw when I walked in hit me like a punch to the gut. There was my son, usu- ally a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, lying unconscious on a bed. He had a cervi- cal collar on his neck (this hid the ligature marks), tubes and wires running every where, probes on his head monitoring brain activity, and worst of all was a machine rhythmically breathing for him. When I grabbed his hand, it was limp and cold. He was unresponsive, and I just cried.

A doctor took Lisa and I into a small room and spoke to us about his prognosis, and it wasn’t good. When he hung himself, he had deprived his brain and other vital organs of oxygen. The CPR may have caused damage to his heart, and they were worried about possible damage to his neck as well. The next 72 hours would be critical.

We kept a vigil by his for two days, and dur- ing that time, there was no change. In the ICU, no change can be a good thing because it meant he wasn’t getting worse. It was also bad because he wasn’t getting better. But we did see him try and open his eyes on his own, and he moved his hand for us as well.

One thing I learned quickly. In the ICU, optimism is short lived. That afternoon, a neurologist came by to talk to us. His assessment of Peyton’s brain activity led him to believe that even IF he lived, he would not be able to function. There was a good chance that he would never be able to take care of himself again.

The bad news continued about 5:00 that afternoon. While the nurse was performing his hourly exam, he noticed that one of Peyton’s pupils did not react to light. He called in the resident, who in turn, called in the doctor. We were told that this was a sign of increased swelling in the brain, and could be a sign of brain death. At CAT scan was ordered, and the results confirmed what the doctor had thought. Peyton was on the verge of brain death. He showed us the images from the CAT scan. The top part of his brain, the part that contained everything that made Peyton who he was had died. The bottom part that controls the body would soon follow. It was not a question of it Peyton would die, but when. Saturday and Sunday were spent waiting for Peyton’s brain to die. The doctors would conduct a series of tests to determine if his brain had died. Each time his response became less and less as more of his brain shut down. Finally, Sunday night, they conducted the test one final time. He reacted to one of the tests, so a blood flow test was ordered. He was taken to imaging where after an hour, the results confirmed what the doctor believed. At 12:02 AM on Monday, October 13, 2014, Peyton James, my first born child, and the only son I will ever have was officially declared dead. I leaned over, kissed his forehead and told him the same thing I told him the day he was born, and every night I had seen him since, “Goodnight Boo. Daddy loves you very much.”

On Sunday, October 19th, a memorial service was held for Peyton in Round Rock.
Almost three hundred people showed up to say good bye to Peyton and support his family.

I lost my son, and every day for me is a struggle. There is a huge void that will never be filled. Every where I look, every where I go, everything I do some how brings back memories for me and leaves me in tears. I never want any one to go through what I am right now. The pain never leaves.