By Jim Brackett

“Have you been praying for her family?” Ken asked. I was a bit put off because I was still trying to wrap my ahead around the accident I worked the other day. “Of course… yeah… why do you ask?”, I replied. “You should reach out to her parents and let them know. They’d be encouraged to hear that.” he said back. I walked away a bit stunned. I’ll pray for them, of course, but reach out to them? They would probably be upset, yell, swear and tell me to pound sand. Victim’s families were unknown territory for me. As I left church, Ken’s words stayed with me.

Honestly, I was a wreck. At the time, I was in my eighteenth year as a first responder and thought I had seen it all… however, I had never felt this horrible after a call. Three days prior to my conversation with Ken, we responded to a pedestrian accident involving a three-year old girl. She was crossing the street with her mother (who was also pushing a stroller with an infant) when she broke away from her mom’s grasp and darted ahead. She was struck by a vehicle and killed instantly. If that wasn’t bad enough, the accident happened in front of an elementary school as it was dismissing students for the day. Hundreds of kids, dozens of school buses, parents, carpools… We arrived and found that traffic was gridlocked, so my partner Ian and I had to beach our ambulance a hundred yards away. A school nurse and a police officer were doing CPR as we took over care. Teachers and other parents worked to keep students from witnessing our efforts to resuscitate her, but the scene was unraveling fast. When enough police had arrived, we were able to get her to the ambulance and to the hospital.

As we drove, I radioed the hospital with what we were bringing in and suddenly got a mental picture of what was happening at the ER. The trauma room was being readied, surgeons were getting paged, and announcements over the hospital PA system repeating, “Code trauma, pedi ER, code trauma pedi ER”. We arrived at the ER and quickly transferred care… but traumatic cardiac arrests have a very high mortality rate. At one point the doctor asked me for her name… “Shayla, her name is Shayla.”, I answered. He started talking to her, “C’mon Shayla, come back to us…” Then other nurses and doctors joined in, begging her to come back to life. It was a heart breaking scene, so I walked away… three days later I dragged myself to church, where Ken asked me how I was doing.

The months that followed were difficult. The worst was getting up in the morning… just dragging myself out of bed was a process. I managed to go to work, but the job I loved was losing its luster and was fast becoming a drudgery. But something kept in the back of my head… reach out to the family… let them know you’re praying for them. I shook my head… no way, no how. God was so patient. The Holy Spirit kept bringing Ken’s words back. Finally, late one night at the firehouse, I was on Facebook and came upon a memorial page for Shayla Ann, hosted by her mother. The pictures warmed my heart, seeing her alive and well helped me more than I knew… but there were other posts as well… ones that showed a mother’s grief. I prayed, “Holy Spirit, take over now.” I clicked on Facebook messenger and typed,

“Hello, my name is Jim and I was one of the paramedics who treated your daughter on that terrible day last year and not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. It was one of the saddest and most tragic calls of my career. Thank you for making this memorial page for your daughter and sharing your memories. Judging by the pictures, my four-year old Maddie and her would be great friends. Please know that my family and I pray for you each day. Sincerely, Jim.”

I felt such relief because I knew it was out and now in God’s hands. The response, however, was immediate. Shayla’s mom messaged me back expressing gratitude and how happy she was that I reached out. Later, her husband sent a message as well, expressing gratitude. Then I was befriended by all the family members on Facebook, including aunts, grandparents, siblings. It was overwhelming. It culminated with all of us who were on the call getting invited to a memorial service at the school were the accident occurred. God is so good.

In the years since that call, I’ve stayed in touch with Shayla’s family and have been able to see God blessing them immensely. Shayla’s dad got a new job with a huge pay increase. I saw them buy their first house, the older siblings move on to middle and high school… and then they had two more babies. I think of how a tragedy like this could drive families apart, but this was not to be the case. I also realized that seeing this family experience God’s healing and blessings brought about healing in my own heart. All I had to do was do that one thing the Holy Spirit asked… reach out. The rest was in God’s hands.