By Sandi Latimer
Just weeks shy of his first birthday, Matthew McConnell suffered an injury from which doctors didn’t expect him to recover.
He was in the care of a babysitter and was in a high chair when she left the room to check on other children. When she returned, Matthew had slid down and was hanging from the tray. He was not breathing.
The baby sitter called for help. Neighbor Dannette Warren, coming home for lunch, performed CPR until the Jackson Township Fire Department medics arrived to transport the child to Children’s Hospital.
Matthew’s parents Kim and Michael McConnell were seconds behind the EMTs. Doctors told them they didn’t think their young son would make it past the next 24 hours, Kim recalled.
That was Jan. 3, 1997. On Jan. 20, Michael, who had suffered severe brain damage, observed his 20th birthday.
“First it was 24 hours, then it was three days, then one year, three years,” Kim told a standing room only crowd at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Jackson Township Trustees.
“Children’s gave up guessing. Matthew was proving them wrong.”
At Kim’s request, the responding paramedics were recognized at that meeting. Responding medics were Lloyd Sheets, then a lieutenant; and Dan Miller, Cheyenne Wells, Ronald Jahn, Paul Gaston, Sean Garvey, Gregory Scarberry, Boyd Conley, David Duerler, Scott Bowyer, and John Keyt.
Also recognized were police officers Brian Davidson and Rick Butsko who provided the police escort for the medic squad that day.
“It all comes down to the first responders,” Kim said, noting that the word first responders didn’t become a household word until September 11th.
The first to respond was Warren, whom Kim had not met until the meeting.
“The babysitter knew CPR, but she panicked,” Kim said. “She gave Matthew her breath until the paramedics arrived. People have told me if we lived in another jurisdiction, he wouldn’t have gotten the early care he did.”
The first responders received commendations from the Ohio House of Representatives, delivered by State Rep. Cheryl Grossman from Grove City.
She said the firefighters “were the unsung heroes making Matthew’s 20th birthday,” and cited them for “their dedication, professionalism, caring, and knowledge.”
She also read proclamations recognizing the two police officers for their work and also Warren for saving a little boy’s life. She then led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday.”
Board chairman David Burris read a proclamation from the city recognizing the work of the people 19 years ago.
Fire Chief Randy Little said, “I speak for the community in how proud we are of the fire department and the police department.”
He also paid tribute to Warren for “doing what she had to do even if she didn’t have to do it for a living.”
Grove City Police Chief Jeff Pearson praised the teamwork his department has with the township, calling it “incredible.”
“These guys get a lot of bad rap,” Burris said of police officers, “but there’s no other community I’d rather live in. These guys carry defibrillators in their cars.”
Grossman put in a plug for her bill that would require high school students to have CPR training before they can graduate.
Reports at the time of the accident noted that the babysitter had 11 children in her care, more than the six the law allowed. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of child neglect and was put on probation for five years and ordered to do 100 hours community service with the March of Dimes. A six-month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine were suspended.
When the accident occurred, Matthew was walking and was just beginning to talk. Today he spends his waking hours in a specially designed wheel chair. He has not spoken in those 19 years.