Three-year-old Jake Ashlock spent much of his early childhood years at the doctor's office, suffering from chronic strep throat and pneumonia. His family physician recommended Jake have his tonsils and adenoids removed. The outpatient surgical procedure would take less than an hour, the doctor said, and then Jake could go home. In a few days, the happy-go-lucky boy would be back to normal.
Mark and Lori Ashlock took Jake in for the surgery on April 19. The procedure only took about 10 minutes. Within a short time, the family was back at home. Jake had a slight fever and was having difficulty swallowing, but his doctor said this was normal and nothing to worry about.
That evening, Lori slept with her son, waking him periodically to drink some liquids as the doctor had instructed. He continued to have a fever throughout the night, but other than that he seemed fine.
Lori's mother came to the house to help take care of Jack the next day. They decided to let him sleep, knowing that he would be in pain when awake.
"I was worried because his fever had not broken and checked on him every 15 minutes while he slept," Lori said. "I noticed his breathing had gotten a little heavier, but I just thought he was in a deep sleep.
"Jake slept on his tummy. We decided to set him up to give him something to drink and that was when he noticed his face was a pale purple color," she said. "We realized he wasn't breathing well."
Lori and her mother rushed Jake to Cumberland River Hospital in Celina. Mark met them at the hospital. Luckily, the hospital was within driving distance.
By the time Jake arrived at the hospital, his oxygen saturation rate was only about 60, nearly 40 points below what it should have been. The trauma of the surgery had caused the soft tissue in his throat to swell, partially shutting off his airway.
The medical staff at Cumberland immediately called Air Evac Lifeteam to transport Jake. They knew he needed to get to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville as soon as possible.
The Air Evac Lifeteam crew, based in Lafayette, was sent to the hospital. Flight nurse Michelle Ingram was part of the crew that day, along with flight paramedic Scott West and pilot James Hope.
"Lori was a little apprehensive about having us fly her son," Ingram recalls. "We understood. It is always difficult to tell a parent that they cannot accompany their child to the hospital. We do all we can to make the situation a little easier for parents to deal with."
Lori said the hospital staff helped calm her fears. "They told me they had worked with Michelle and Scott before and that they were the best. They said I couldn't put our son in better hands. Michelle asked for our cell phone number and told us they would let us know what was happening every step of the way."
"Jake was a very sick little boy. We got him to Vanderbilt with a lot of luck on our side," Ingram said. "Jake was getting so little oxygen, but we didn't have very many options. He really needed to have a tube inserted down his throat to keep his airway open. But, because there was so much swelling in his airway, we knew we would have only one chance to intubate him successfully.
"We worked to keep his oxygen levels as stable as possible and focused on keeping Jake calm during the 30-minute flight," she said. "He was only three years old and had to be very scared. But, he was one of the bravest patients I've ever cared for. He couldn't speak, but would nod his head as I spoke with him about the helicopter and the clouds."
Paramedic West said he was amazed at how well Jake did on the flight. "He never whimpered or cried. We were grateful because that would have made the swelling in his throat worse."
When Mark and Lori arrived at the emergency room at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital two hours later, doctors told them Jake's condition didn't look good.
"They took us to him. He looked so lifeless. He had been put on a ventilator to help him breath," Lori said. "He had a fever and his heart rate was out of control. X-rays also revealed that pneumonia had set into his lungs."
Jake remained on the ventilator two days. By the third day, the antibiotics were taking effect and Mark and Lori said they were able to see a very noticeable improvement in Jake's condition. After four days, he was released from the hospital to finish his recovery at home.
"The first thing he wanted to do was ride his bike," laughed Lori. "It was good to see he was back to his old self again."
About a month after the flight, Jake and his parents paid a surprise visit to the Air Evac Lifeteam base in Lafayette.
"We wanted to thank them in person," Lori said. "Words cannot express how grateful we are for what they did for Jake. I thank God every day for placing them here to save my son's life."
"We were so surprised to see Jake doing so well," Ingram said. "He was so sick the last time we saw him, it was hard to believe this was the same little boy."
Ingram said it was a great reunion. "We were all in tears and hugged each other. It's moments like these that really make the job worth it," she said.
West agreed. "It makes me appreciate the difference Air Evac makes in the lives of people who live in rural areas. I'm glad we were there to get Jake to the medical care he needed in the time that he needed it."
Air Evac Lifeteam is a membership-supported air ambulance service, serving rural communities throughout the central U.S. The company operates three bases in middle Tennessee, including bases at Lafayette, Waverly and Lewisburg.