When Dr. Bradley Ross, a general and trauma surgeon at Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis County, rounded the corner, a smile broke out on his face.
When 15-year-old Jonathan Mitchell smiled and embraced Ross, tears welled up in the eyes of Mitchell’s mother.
Ross was one of the people instrumental in saving the Waterloo teenager’s life after he was stabbed Aug. 24 near Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School.
That was one of several people mother and son expressed their gratitude to last Wednesday morning at the hospital, when first responders and medical professionals reunited with the teen.
“I want to thank them, mostly, and just meet with everyone who helped save my life,” Mitchell said. “Because they all did.”
The Waterloo Police Department responded about 5 p.m. Aug. 24, just as the Waterloo Homecoming parade was starting, to the corner of Third and Church streets for what was initially called in as a child with head lacerations due to a fall.
When first responders arrived, however, they realized Mitchell had been stabbed.
Paramedics called to see how long it would take for a helicopter to arrive to take the teen to a nearby hospital.
The estimated flight time was 12-15 minutes.
They immediately decided to drive the 21 miles from Waterloo to Mercy Hospital South.
Ross said that decision was crucial.
“If EMS would have waited the 12-15 minutes for the flight to come here, this would have been a different outcome for him,” he explained. “We didn’t have that kind of time to wait.”
Monroe County EMS paramedic Nick Hoeffken said that highlights just how critical the choices first responders make can be.
“It just reiterates how important it is to make good decisions like that and take into consideration the welfare of the kid and nothing else,” said Hoeffken, who responded to the 911 call for Mitchell. “It’s a hard decision to make.”
There was so little time because, in addition to a cut on his head and hand, Mitchell had been stabbed in the torso and his aorta was 80 percent severed.
The aorta is the main artery of the body.
“It was cut all the way around except for 20 percent,” Ross explained to Mitchell. “So your heart would pump, and blood would come out.”
That injury, which Ross described as difficult to identify and fix, meant Mitchell had about a 1 percent chance of survival.
“You don’t survive what I went through,” Mitchell said. “I got extremely lucky.”
He survived because of the rapid, correct choices of about 30 first responders and medical professionals, which started with the decision to not wait for a helicopter.
“If it wasn’t for everyone making the right decision at the right time, this would not even have been possible,” said Jonathan’s mother, Amy Alexander. “I’m very appreciative.”
Surgeons like Ross were able to repair Mitchell’s aorta and give him 23 units of blood, which made him stable enough to transport to Children’s Hospital.
He stayed there for over four weeks, not leaving his bed for a week.
Now, he is doing much better.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” said Mitchell, who returned to Waterloo High School for the first time in almost five months on Friday. “I’m still having some problems in my hand. My stomach still has a little scab. But, other than that, my head’s fine (and) my arm’s fine.”
The tendons in Mitchell’s hand were severed in the stabbing, and his ring and pinky finger are still having significant issues.
But Alexander and Mitchell said they are grateful Mitchell is still alive, even if he is coping with injuries.
Likewise, those who helped save Mitchell’s life were happy mother and son took the time to meet and thank them.
“It’s very gratifying for us to see how well you’re doing,” Ross told Mitchell. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we do what we do.”
Like Ross, Hoeffken, said it is not often first responders and health care providers get to see who they help again, which made this special.
“It’s great to see the improvement, great to see him out and about,” Hoeffken said.
The legal case is ongoing, but Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann could not provide an update because it a juvenile case.
Shortly after the incident, a 14-year-old Monroe County boy was charged with two counts of armed violence and one count of aggravated battery in connection with the incident.
Alexander said she hopes her son can put the incident behind him, which might be made easier because he remembers little of what transpired.
She also has advised him to take advantage of this second chance.
“I really have a lot of hope that he will turn out to be someone who will do something good with his life,” she said. “I think he’s that kind of kid who will go on to help other people.”
Mitchell said he is unsure of what he wants to do, but is thinking about being a teacher.