Teen’s life was saved; now he returns to say thank you

Patient Stories |

09/08/2022

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Zane Hendrickson is among Riley patients who will be honored for their courage in recovery during Saturday’s critical care reunion and walkathon.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

As a senior in high school, Zane Hendrickson is looking ahead in life. He is filling out college applications, writing scholarship essays and considering a career in law.

And as hard as it is to think about her son leaving home for college, Christa Hendrickson knows how blessed she and Zane both are to be in this season of life.

None of this was promised. None of this seemed likely in January 2021 when Zane, then a sophomore and an elite, competitive swimmer, collapsed on the pool deck at his high school after swimming laps.

He would ultimately suffer cardiac arrest multiple times, as well as a stroke and a seizure at just 15 years old. But a team of physicians, nurses and therapists spread across multiple hospitals worked together feverishly to save this teen.

He spent several weeks in the ICU at Riley, followed by several more weeks in inpatient rehab.

On Saturday, 17-year-old Zane, his mom, extended family and friends will make the trip to Indianapolis from Boonville, Indiana, to celebrate his survival and that of so many others during the Critical Care Reunion and Walkathon on the campus of Riley Hospital for Children.

It is the first time the event will be held in person since 2019, and it is expected to reunite hundreds of former patients, families and healthcare team members.

“Zane has raised some money for the event, and we’re hoping to see some of the critical care physicians and CVICU nurses,” Christa Hendrickson said. “It’s important to us as a family to celebrate where he was to where he is today.”

Zane actually has exceeded his fundraising goal of $1,000. All donations support ongoing research in pediatric asthma, research trial enrollment, congenital heart disease, nursing education, stem cell transplant, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), traumatic brain injury and sepsis.

In those critical hours after his collapse on Jan. 7, 2021, Zane required lifesaving ECMO treatment and had to be transported to Riley, three hours away by ambulance.

He underwent surgery to repair an undiagnosed heart defect, but the stress on his young heart left him in heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should.

Drs. Adam Kean and John Parent continue to follow Zane, monitoring his heart function. Talk of a heart transplant has been set aside for the moment, but it remains a possibility.

Today, the teen has transitioned from competing in the pool to coaching young swimmers. He takes more than a dozen medications each day and eats a low-sodium diet, but otherwise he is the same witty, sarcastic boy, Hendrickson said of her son.

“He’s a thrill seeker, and he can’t do his roller coasters. He can’t compete in sports.”

But he has a good group of friends around him, he got his driver’s license, he went to his junior prom, and he recently graduated from physical therapy.

All are major milestones that his mom wasn’t sure would ever happen as she prayed by his bedside in those dark, early days, worried that her only child would not survive.

Now that same boy is motivated to pay it forward in any way he can, she said.

“The Riley critical care team is very dear to us. We know that it was through their efforts that Zane is still with us today. He realizes what Riley has done for him, and he wants to give back.”

Opening remarks and a remembrance ceremony begin at 9:15 a.m. Saturday across from Simon Family Tower at Riley. The 5K walk steps off at 9:30.

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She almost lost her boy, but the stars aligned that January night - So many times, someone could have said, “No, we can’t do that.” Instead, teams from three hospitals said “yes,” and a 15-year-old boy is alive because of it. Read how Riley and Methodist worked together to save a patient who was clinging to life at an Evansville hospital.

Swimmer defies the odds nine months after he nearly died - He was a champion athlete, until his heart gave out. Now this high school junior hopes to make a splash outside the pool as a coach.