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A Heart of Gold: Ethan Abel's Story

PERRY COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - An incredible story of survival. Three weeks ago, a fun day on the playground for some fourth grade students at Robinson Elementary quickly turned to panic. Ethan Abel collapsed, went into cardiac arrest, and he was not breathing. He's through the thick of it now, and many people are being credited for saving his life.

Like many children his age, he likes video games, throwing the football, and Anthony Davis. But unlike many children his age, Ethan Abel has had a heart condition since birth. Luckily, his teachers, and school nurses, knew just how serious to react when a student said Ethan had collapsed while on the playground.

Dena Smith, P.E. Teacher at Robinson Elementary, was out on the playground with her class when a student approached her and a couple other teachers, saying there was something wrong with Ethan. "When I found him, I just called for help," Smith said, obviously still shaken from the terrifying ordeal. "I ran and got the AED."

The school nurse at Robinson splits every day at two different schools; A.B. Combs Elementary in the morning, then arrives at Robinson at around noon. Many people we talked to said they didn't want to even think what would have happened, had she not been there. "When I reached him, he was unconscious, not responding, and not breathing... So it was very scary," Registered Nurse Cassandra Artrip said.

She immediately began CPR on Ethan, with chest compressions and emergency breathing. She was joined shortly after by two more registered nurses, who were in the carpool lane waiting to pick up their own children... another instance of being in the right place, at the right time.

Principal Estill Neace said, "Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think we'd have to use an AED in our school." But when Smith returned with the defibrillator, they administered a life saving shock to the nine year old boy. "I was like, please God, let this work.. let this child live," Smith said.

As the nurses continues to work to revive Ethan, Principal Neace had to make a difficult call. "In 22 years, there's been a lot of conversations I've had with mothers and fathers," began Neace, who has been the principal for four years. "That's the first time I've ever had to call a parent and say, 'Hurry to school, your child's heart stopped,'" he concluded.

That call was something Michael Abel, Ethan's father, said he expected to one day come, but was not prepared to hear. "His whole life, I've seen him through so much in the hospital and everything.. Fear..Pain.." he said, trying to hold back tears.

Fast forward three weeks... Ethan is now home, after spending time in both UK Children's hospital, and Cincinnati Children's hospital. He now has a defibrillator implanted on his heart, to hopefully prevent future incidents. "I thank God, he worked through those people that day," Michael Abel said, sitting next to a shy Ethan on the couch. He continued to say that the AED, along with the people in the school, saved his child's life. He thinks that there should be more AED's around public places.

Now, as Ethan begins a long road to recovery with high spirits, and full of humor (he said the first thing he said when he regained consciousness in the hospital was "I missed the bus"), he has a message he wants to share with those who saved his life. "Thank you for the prayers, and the support," he said, as he threw his football with his father.

Ethan's father says he is fine for now, but will more than likely need a heart transplant in the future. Ethan will celebrate his tenth birthday on November 11th.