FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Gage Brisson was only 9 days old Nov. 19, 2020, when he suddenly stopped feeding – a cause for concern, but one his mother, Grace Brisson, never expected was a sign of congenital heart defect.
Fortunately, she made the decision to visit Blanchfield Army Community Hospital for a check-up just before Gage’s symptoms became life-threatening. As he suddenly stopped breathing and lost color, trained medical professionals were on hand to stabilize him.
The team worked to keep Gage alive for more than an hour until LifeFlight personnel could transport him to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for heart surgery.
For their response, along with that of the Vanderbilt team,
The Children’s Emergency Care Alliance recognized the BACH and Vanderbilt teams for their response with a Star of Life Award May 12 during a banquet hosted at Rocketown in Nashville. The 11 BACH employees who were recognized are Audrey Sundbye, Holly Knowles, Karen Borens, Maj. Eric Samuel, Lt. Col. Joshua Anderson, Master Sgt. Aaron Williams, Linda Burton, Moriah Dreher, Demishia Bell, Toni Nelson and Capt. Plyler Hamilton.
“Without them, we would not have our son today,” Grace said. “He just simply wouldn’t be here. All of them saved his life, and I feel like God put us where we were for a reason.”
Sundbye, a lactation consultant at BACH’s Women’s Health Clinic, was the first to suspect Gage’s life was at risk and acted quickly to make sure.
“[Grace] had left me a voicemail that morning, and when I listened to it, I knew I needed to call her right away,” she said. “I had seen them a couple days before and helped them with feeding, which had been going really well until suddenly it wasn’t.”
Sundbye grew more concerned when she met Grace in the waiting room and heard Gage making unusual cries and brought him back into an examining room for a closer look.
“As soon as I knew there was a problem, I immediately hollered for help from the whole pediatric staff,” she said. “They moved right away, and very rapidly. Everyone worked so well together as a team.”
Doctors hooked Gage up to an IV and administered pediatric advanced life support while Grace called her husband, Sgt. Ryan Brisson, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), to the hospital.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said. “Gage stopped breathing, he was turning blue, and they just whisked him away and brought him into a room. I feel like everybody in that clinic banded together and just started working on him.”
Throughout the process, the Family stayed in the room and watched over Gage while Sundbye provided emotional support.
“It was terrifying,” Grace said. “I didn’t know what was going on at that moment, and we had no idea he had a heart issue. They did his anatomy scan when he was 21 weeks old in my stomach, and said everything was normal. Nothing was showing wrong, and we still had no idea what was going on. We just knew it was something emergent.”
Before long, the team realized they had to coordinate with Vanderbilt for Gage to have any chance of making it through.
“He ended up having heart surgery, because there was no way of fixing this without it,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Anderson, clinic chief of BACH’s Byrd Medical Clinic. “At that point we started getting other people involved, and it quickly steamrolled into the fact that we needed to get a further, higher level of care for the child.”
BACH remained involved in the process from there, making sure Gage was prepared for the helicopter ride before gathering the team for an after-action report.
“The goal here is to never dump a child on LifeFlight before the child is stabilized,” said Maj. Eric Samuel, 586th Field Hospital, 531st Hospital Center. “So even when the LifeFlight team got here, we still had a huge hand in making sure the infant was stable and prepared enough for transport. The last thing you want is to do something in a rushed manner where you’re in the back of a helicopter and something really bad happens.”
Once Gage was transported to Vanderbilt, it wasn’t long before doctors discovered the problem: His aorta was narrowing, and his heart was over-pumping blood. Jill Hazelwood, a critical care paramedic with Vanderbilt LifeFlight, said it was critical that BACH’s care team reached out when they did.
“They very quickly recognized that this child was very sick, and he presented as the textbook congenital heart defect,” Hazelwood said. “That’s exactly what he was, his was just worse than most that we find. If they hadn’t recognized that so quickly, the outcome would have been different. We’re very thankful they recognized that and activated EMS.”
Hazelwood’s experience inspired her to nominate the group for the Star of Life Award, which is presented annually to EMS professionals across Tennessee who provide exemplary lifesaving care.
Recipients are chosen from each of the state’s eight EMS regions, and the BACH group won this year’s award for the Mid-Cumberland region (spanning Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson and Wilson counties).
“I was surprised we were even nominated for anything,” Anderson said. “We are trained to do our jobs, and we responded like we would for any other child regardless of location. We just acted on the training we’ve received in the past and made good decisions that helped save this child’s life.”
Samuel said the team’s Army medical training prepared them to handle the situation and overcome any emotional stress.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I didn’t feel intimidated by it,” he said. “That’s probably a byproduct of all the courses and the experience that we get through Army Medicine. The things we did for the child as far as breathing for him and doing different procedures, none of that was new either, which is also a byproduct of our familiarity.”
Gage, now 6 months old, is continuing treatment at Vanderbilt and may have lifelong complications from his congenital heart defect.
Despite that, he remains high spirited and his parents are confident he can overcome any challenges with BACH in his corner – especially after they heard the full patient scenario for the first time during the Star of Life Award ceremony.
“My husband and I didn’t know exactly what they were doing medically, we could just see the work they were doing to keep him alive,” Grace said. “Hearing his story in front of all those people, it was emotional being there. We wouldn’t have been there on stage with them if they didn’t do what they did, and it was just such a proud moment. Babies are in great hands here, Families are in great hands and that’s what I want people to know.”