Last night we said goodbye to Koren’s favorite little friend. For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with Xander on Facebook (ah facebook, the modern telephone), he’s the four-year-old boy you may have seen on the news, who came to the aid of a 3-year-old girl struggling in the water.
He did save her and she is fine. However, he apparently did so by keeping himself submerged to lift her above the water, or perhaps was hanging on to the side of the pool and lost his grip and went under – there are several versions of the story out there right now and I’m not entirely sure on the details. Regardless, by the time he was discovered and pulled from the water, he was unconscious and without a pulse. An off-duty nurse performed CPR until an ambulance arrived. The paramedics were eventually able to get a pulse started just before he was flown to Cook Children’s, but were not able to bring him back to consciousness.
There was some hope Tuesday, as he started trying to take breaths over the ventilator, but his body temperature was too low so the doctors sedated him to let him warm up before he started to fight.
Unfortunately, when they took him off the ventilator the next day, there was no fight in him. His temperature had normalized but he made no attempts to breathe and his brain activity had diminished further.
Yesterday afternoon, I started getting this sinking feeling. I was hoping it was just the weather. We had received an outpouring of love and encouragement from friends/family, and were in the process of making an audio CD collection of greetings for Xander from people all over the world. I should have been in a relatively hopeful frame of mind, and actually was until mid-afternoon. But as the day progressed, I found myself unable to shake this heaviness/anxiety. I was pretty much useless at work, waiting for the time we could go to the hospital.
On the way there, we received a message from Xander’s mother: he wasn’t going to make it.
We arrived at the hospital just after the family had been told that there was no hope for recovery. The atmosphere was heavy and thick with emotion and it seemed absurd for us to be waiting in the family suite, reading stories to our healthy, vibrant children to keep them quiet and entertained while everyone around us was grieving over the loss of their own.
Koren was admitted into the ICU room to see him. It seems to have meant a lot to Xander’s parents that their son could be with his best friend one last time.
They had a counselor available, whose job it is to prepare children for seeing their loved ones in the hospital. Before he went in, she showed Koren a picture book and explained what all the tubes and wires were that he would see attached to Xander. I think it helped.
Koren blew Xander lots of kisses while he was in the room, but didn’t feel very talkative. He took in the scene, and answered when spoken to. He asked questions about some of the patches or pieces of equipment that weren’t in the picture book. Fortunately, Xander’s parents do have several recordings of Koren talking to his sweet friend.
We didn’t allow Kaelin to go in. This upset her, but Kaelin has grasped the concept of “never” (in this lifetime), and Xander’s loss was already hitting her hard. For an intensely emotional child with the tendency to get “stuck” on certain issues, we thought it would be in her best interest not to have a somewhat disturbing visual of him burned into her mind. Regardless, she cried herself into exhaustion on the way home.
Both kids had questions on the way home, which we did our best to answer. The counselor warned us that we would probably get a lot of repeated questions, and to be prepared to supply the same answers over and over again. Death is a hard concept, and every kid grapples with it a bit differently.
Fortunately, the kids both slept well last night and woke up in a good frame of mind. They’re in school/camp today in an attempt to provide them with the structure and normalcy they are used to, but I will be picking them up early if either of them starts to struggle with the day.
The family will keep Xander on the life support through today, but sometime in the next few days will have to make the difficult decision to disconnect it.
Xander’s dad seems to be strong in his faith, and even though this is heart-wrenching for him, I believe he’s getting some degree of peace from that. The family tells me Xander’s mom is not religious. Seeing her lying in the bed next to him, talking to her baby and stroking his arm … I don’t have words for that. It cuts too deep.
I am grieving today for this precious boy who always had a smile and a hug for everyone, and for his family that is going through so much hurt right now.
Xander’s rescue was shown on the news, both here and nation-wide. CNN, the New York Times, and local news in other states all picked up the story of the 4-year-old hero. The mother of the girl he saved came to the suite last night to express her gratitude and regret and empathy to the family. It was clearly an extremely difficult thing for her do.
Last night as we were leaving the hospital, Koren said, “Xander was good to save that girl. But I wish he had just called for help.”
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A fund was set up a few days ago by some friends of the family in order to help with medical bills, missed-work and other expenses – and soon, it appears, for funeral/memorial costs. If you are inclined to provide this sweet family with assistance, please do so here: