The video is transcribed beneath the viewing frame.
It was the last day of August. It was also the last time we were at our West Virginia cabin, until this past weekend. On that day, we urgently left to take Ryan directly to the hospital. His heart rate was gradually elevating and his breathing was increasingly more labored. He was struggling, clearly becoming distressed.
We didn’t make it to the emergency room in time.
Ryan died en route. I did all I could to bring him back by administering CPR on the side of the windy, narrow two-lane mountain road… at the summit’s peak on the border of West Virginia and Virginia.
I instinctively knew all hope was lost when I saw him, in my rearview mirror, sit bolt upright… then go unnaturally limp. His breathing abruptly ended. It was 6:45 on a beautiful late-summer evening that Ryan left this world. The sun was low in the sky and the shadows that were cast from the trees were long.
I began giving Ryan chest compressions with one arm — the other on the steering wheel — as I looked for any spot to pull off. I kept at it even as I put the gearshift into park, set the brake, and put on the hazard flashers.
I kept pumping his chest, endlessly rocking up and down. Sue was trying to get to him and actually ripped the door handle off completely in doing so. She came in through the front door while frantically talking with 9-1-1. She was lovingly jostling and rubbing him all the while. Although there was no doubt that Ryan was clearly dead and hopelessly beyond revival, we refused to stop tending to him.
All the while, we continually assured Ryan that “we got this” for him… that we will keep our promise to him. The one we that we made just months before he was brutally attacked… to do everything we can for him if he were ever gravely injured.
We honored that solemn promise. We were true to it to the very end.
Throughout the years of Ryan’s struggles, I would always remind him that I will never give up until he does. Turns out, even though it was clear that Ryan had died in the van that evening, I refused to stop trying. I wouldn’t until the paramedics arrived… probably not even until I got an official declaration from a doctor.
Refusing to stop, I thought of this promise as I watched his lips and fingernails turning a deeper shade of blue with each passing moment. Sweat was pouring off me… into my eyes… onto Ryan. It puddled on the van’s floorboard. My arm muscles were painfully cramping, screaming at me to quit. My vision was blurred from the combination of tears and sweat stinging them.
I didn’t care. I would keep at it forever if needed. Sue begged me to let her take over but she needed to stay with 9-1-1 so they could find us… I was oblivious to surroundings, except for what was happening with me and Ryan. My world closed-in, to a tiny bubble of what was happening right before me.
I hear the sirens in the distance. I know it will be out of my hands shortly, and I honestly wondered if I will be able to turn over control. Even when the paramedics arrived I stayed at it while barking out orders to them, “Get the defibrillator and mechanical chest compression device on him! Get him on oxygen… 10 liters! Now!”.
Once they did, I stepped back. Helplessly watching.
With the defibrillator paddles on and it powered up, I was expecting to hear “Clear” and a shock to be delivered. But no. The unit announces, in an oddly calming, electronic, female voice that “No shock recommended”.
It was over.
Ryan was gone.
If I needed any more convincing it didn’t take long… the ambulance didn’t even use the sirens. Not for a single second. Absolutely nothing as Ryan was transported to the hospital. It was clear they were in no rush.
When we arrive at the hospital directly behind the ambulance I still see no urgency as the stretcher with my son’s body is taken in. Sue and I are diverted to the one room that loved ones never want to be in… Family Counseling.
It was a familiar sensation. Instantly reminding me of the morning that Ryan was attacked… on the brink of death. It was a room. like this one, that is in every hospital; with its comfortable seating, dim lighting, and tissue boxes in abundance. Its atmosphere can’t hide its purpose.
Like on November 7, 2009, I went over to Sue and wrapped my arms around her. I cupped my hands behind her head then pulled my head back to look directly into her eyes. I could only think of one thing to say… “We got this!”.
Sue didn’t speak. She simply nodded her head and pulled me back to her… then we both started crying.
Yes, another chapter in Ryan’s legacy was just written. Before leaving the hospital they allowed us to see him. As I looked at him lying on the cold, stainless steel gurney I told him I did everything I could for him… that I did my best… that I hope he is proud of me.
Then I made him another promise.
That his story is not over. Not here. Not now. Not as long as I’m alive. There’s still more to be told… and because of him, it will be epic! That I will keep his legacy alive. That I will relentlessly pursue justice for his sake.
His spirit and essence will live through me. In me.
I leaned down, brushed his hair aside, and gently kissed his forehead… like I’ve done probably a hundred-thousand times before. I whispered one more thing into his ear, another promise, that only the two of us will know… until everyone does one day. If nothing else, Ryan knows that I’m a man of my word. When I say something, it’s as good as done.
I smelled his hair and told him he might now have the divine wisdom to know just how much his mom and I intensely love him. That we will always love him.
Then, for the first time in nearly a decade, we left him alone.
#KeepRyanRelevant #JusticeForRyan #AustinVantrease #JonathanMay
Angelina Bugli says
My heart cries as I read this. I am so very sorry for the loss of Ryan. Right from the time I became aware of the brutal and senseless attack on him, I held each of you in my heart, praying for only the best for you all. No one gave up, not even Ryan. I believe he has transformed and is with you all still. My heart still holds you and Ryan and I send all my love.
Candi Lester says
My heart break for you all. My daughter is a freshman at WVU. She is at the remembrance for him right now. Praying for you all.
Orla Dalton says
Thank you for sharing Ryan’s journey, your family’s journey. I’m heartbroken for you. RIP Ryan. Rest assured he knows you did everything in your power for him. Onwards for justice for your beautiful boy
Galya Campano says
Thank you for sharing.❤️