Jacob Alan “Jake” Ikard will live to see his 15th birthday on August 20 along with the rest of his life. A pair of Rural Metro Fire first responders – Capt. Chuck McNeil and firefighter Matt Reyes – are the heroes in Jake’s story. On Saturday night they had the rare opportunity to meet – Jake and two heroes.
McNeil and Reyes were honored as “Lifesavers” two nights ago at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s (ETCH) Region 2 Emergency Care Alliance dinner at the Jubilee Banquet Facility. Jake was there along with his mother, Christa Ikard, who is a registered nurse. Smiles, hugs and tears were freely given and warmly embraced. It’s rare when emergency first responders have an opportunity to meet the person whose life they saved … and in this case, his mother as well.
On that early morning of Nov. 29, 2021 Jake was running late to catch his bus bound for Powell Middle School. His long sprint left him out of breath. Within minutes after finding his seat, another student alerted the driver that Jake was unconscious. The bus stopped on Heiskell Road. Jake was not breathing. Someone called 911.
McNeil and Reyes had just started their 24-hour green shift at Station 36 just off Emory Road when the alarm sounded around 8 a.m. They loaded in. McNeil, a 35-year Rural Metro veteran, was driving and if you don’t know what Emory Road looks like between Station 36 and I-75 at 8 a.m., well, it looks like a parking lot. Slow traffic personified. “I was doing everything I could do to get through the traffic – dodging, finding holes – everything I could do,” McNeil said. “I did it in seven minutes.”
Just before they pulled up to the bus, AMR Ambulance Paramedic Brad Rowe and his partner EMT Jeremy Hasegawa had arrived from Station 31 in Powell and had taken Jake off the bus. McNeil, a paramedic, and Reyes joined in. Jake was lifeless and lying in the grass next to the road. Zero pulse. Not breathing. He was gone. “Lifeless” is how Reyes described him. McNeil said he was in full cardiac arrest. They began CPR a few times and still no pulse.
“We knew then we had to try and reboot his heart,” McNeil said. “They were getting the other students off the bus and we didn’t want them to watch so we put him in the ambulance.” They used a LIFEPAK15 defibrillator for the reboot on his heart. The first shock didn’t work. The second one did.
The traffic hampered Christa from seeing her son before he was taken to Tennova North Medical Center just off I-75. She caught up with him there. “I asked to see Jake and I will never forget that moment. As a nurse, I have seen many intubated patients. It was bizarre to see Jake that way,” she said.
Doctors at Tennova said they were transferring him to ETCH since it was a heart problem. He was not there long.
“At Children’s they explained to me that Jake would need to be transferred to Vanderbilt because they thought he had an electrical issue in his heart. Jake would need what is called an EP study. At this point I was still stunned,” Christa said. An ambulance took him to Nashville and Christa followed in her car.
“On the way to Vanderbilt all I did was talk to God. I grappled with the reality that I might lose my one and only child. I leaned on God. Nothing made sense to me. I decided on that drive that I would find my way back to God even if my worst fears became reality,” Christa said.
Once at Vanderbilt, she describes what happened. “They gave Jake a drug to try and control his heart rate and rhythm. It worked. After they extubated him he was very tired. He developed ICU delirium, which isn’t uncommon. He was confused and eventually developed catatonia I suspect from the antipsychotics taken to treat his delirium. It was slow and steady progress at Vanderbilt. They did an MRI on his brain and heart scans and both were clear.”
The Vanderbilt cardiologists performed an “EP study” on Jacob. That is a cardiac electrophysiology study, minimally invasive, in which catheters are introduced through a vein or artery to record electrical activity from within the heart. Their best diagnosis is that Jake has CPTV, or catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. It is a rare condition caused by an irregular heart rhythm that can be life threatening. It often shows up in childhood, but can show up later in life. The first sign is often fainting or near fainting during exercise or strong emotion.
Also, the many intubations Jake had damaged his airway and so far, he’s had six surgeries to clear the problem. The last surgery was done this past Wednesday.
However, being fine took a while. He was not released from Vanderbilt until Christmas Eve, his 25th day there, and before he was released doctors implanted a defibrillator.
Back to the Rural Metro heroes. McNeil said that cardiac arrest is very rare in children and teens. “Sometimes the outcome is tragic. I was hopeful this young man would be OK and it’s wonderful that he is. We can only do what we can do and at his age it’s unpredictable what will happen. The stars were aligned for him. Someone called 911 very quickly and that got this started.”
Reyes came to Knoxville two years ago from Florida and joined Rural Metro. “This one affected me a little bit,” he said. “It will be great to meet him.”
McNeil, the crusty veteran, smiled when asked his thoughts about saving Jake. “He’s got the rest of his life in front of him. Great outcome. The best.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at email@example.com or call him at 865-659-3562.