Disclaimer: This story contains details of loss which may be upsetting for some.
That Day In October
“I woke up on October 14, 2021 and it was just like any other day. Little did I know, this would be the day that would alter the trajectory of our family’s life forever. My late husband, Ryan Joseph Allen, and I had just celebrated our 8 year wedding anniversary two days earlier and we were excitedly expecting our second baby boy, Leo, at the beginning of 2022. Our first son, Jackson, was 3 1/2. I spent the morning working from home at our dining room table, answering emails, reading and analyzing medical records, and preparing legal documents in my role as a medical malpractice defense attorney.
Ryan spent the morning, on a rare day off, sipping coffee and playing video games with his K9 Louie lying right next to him on the couch. Ryan was 35 years old at the time and had been a proud police officer for close to 10 years, and a K9 officer for 3 years — he loved every minute of it. Ryan was tall, handsome, fiercely protective, loving, highly intelligent, and the funniest person I had ever met. He was also the most amazing father to our little boy, Jackson, and I couldn’t wait to see him as a father to our two boys. It wasn’t lost on me, even on this ordinary day, that I was lucky to live such a charmed life Ryan and I had worked very hard to make a reality, and I was grateful.
‘I feel weird,’ Ryan said to me after getting back from the gym, letting me know he had gotten stung by a bee on his arm on the way home. Something in his voice told me something was very wrong and I called 911 immediately. I told the operator my husband was having anaphylactic shock from a bee sting and to come immediately. We needed help, and quickly. As I was on the phone with 911, Ryan stumbled his way down the stairs and outside to the one step leading up to our porch. It was there he sat down and passed out. His precarious journey down our stairs was the last time I saw him conscious and aware of his surroundings.
Still on the phone with 911, I found Ryan unconscious and slumped over himself. I did my best to place him on his back without hitting his head on the stone porch. I was instructed to perform chest compressions until EMS arrived, while Ryan struggled to breathe and take in air. I felt hopeless and powerless in the situation as I screamed at the top of my lungs for help into the wind in front of me, begging someone to come. But it felt like my screams were just going into an abyss. I was relieved when I heard sirens in the distance, signaling help was close by.
When EMS arrived, Ryan stopped struggling to breathe and this is likely when his heart stopped. I ran off the porch to avoid having to see EMS trying to revive him, shocking his body in an attempt to restart his heart. The thought of that kind of force being exerted on Ryan’s body was too much for me to handle. EMS were unable to get Ryan’s heart started at our home, so they loaded him up in the ambulance while a local police officer took me in his patrol car to the hospital to meet Ryan.
During the car ride to the hospital, I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed for Ryan’s heart to start beating again. I didn’t know what I was wishing and praying for, being completely ignorant to the fact of the consequences of an individual being deprived of oxygen for so long, like Ryan was, and what this would mean. When we arrived at the hospital, the police officer who drove me went to see if he could get an update. He returned soon after, as I stood in the hospital corridor, and told me the EMS were able to get Ryan’s heart beating in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. This was the start of a 6-month ordeal that can best be described as hell on earth.
Hoping For Recovery
Ryan’s prolonged oxygen deprivation to his brain caused a severe anoxic brain injury– a global neurological event in which a very small percentage of individuals even survive, let alone recover. Ryan was one of the very few that did survive, however, the consequences were devastating.
Ryan was admitted to the Neuro ICU at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia for 7 weeks, most of which he was in a coma. A device called a ‘bolt’ was placed in his brain bedside to monitor intracranial pressure or ‘ICP,’ in order for his physicians to be able to titrate medications to help prevent brain death, which would be irreversible. His medical team also felt Ryan had the best chance of surviving and having a potential recovery if his body was cooled slowly by a machine that would purposefully cause hypothermia. This would allow Ryan’s body and brain to recover and heal during the most crucial two weeks after an anoxic brain injury, when the brain is the most susceptible to swelling.
Ryan did avoid brain death from the excellent care he received at Penn Presbyterian, but when he was discharged from the ICU, he was still completely unaware of his surroundings, in what is called a ‘disordered state of consciousness.’ He had very limited response to stimulus, couldn’t move any of his limbs, and couldn’t talk or feel emotions. Additionally, he had to receive nutrition through a g-tube and had a tracheostomy placed so his airway could be maintained after being weaned off of a ventilator.
Ryan spent the next 3 months in the hospital or in rehabilitation at Moss Rehabilitation in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania in an attempt to heal him so he could come home to our family. During these 3 months, I gave birth to our second son, Leo Joseph Allen, named after Ryan, on January 8, 2022. Both me and my sister-in-law, who was there as my support person for Leo’s birth, tested positive for COVID when I was admitted to the hospital for my C-section. Therefore, I was forced to give birth without any family members present and not allowed to hold Leo for an hour after his birth. Unfortunately, that was not the hardest thing I had done up to this point, but it was extremely painful given the fact Ryan’s absence was so palpable and I was physically very vulnerable.
Making A Difficult Decision
By the end of February, it became apparent Ryan was not improving cognitively and he was deteriorating physically–he was losing weight and his range of motion was severely limited due to an acquired bone disorder leading to increased bone growth, which caused Ryan pain. My husband had become a shell of his former self, and I barely recognized him. This is when my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and I began discussing the possibility of hospice with Ryan’s rehabilitation team.
After a very difficult few weeks of hard discussions, lots of tears, lots of guilt and shame and sadness, and a Hail Mary Ambien trial as a last stitch effort to bring Ryan out of the darkness of his disordered state of consciousness, it became very obvious Ryan could not recover. I knew deep in my bones and in my heart that the strong, capable, stoic man Ryan was before his accident would not want to live this way; he would rather die than be completely dependent on others to survive.
As a family we therefore made the final decision to put Ryan in hospice, and he received a beautiful and honorable procession or ‘last ride’ organized and executed by hundreds of police and K9 units from across the country, from Moss Rehabilitation to his cousin Michael’s house on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2022 — ironically 10 years to the day of when we met and fell in love at first sight. Ryan died on April 7, 2022, after 22 days in hospice at the age of 35. I was there at his bedside to witness his final breath and I will forever consider being next to my husband for his final moments on earth as both an honor and a privilege.
Making A Choice
After Ryan died, I decided I had a choice: I could allow Ryan’s death to forever define my future in a negative way and have the loss of someone so precious to me eat away at me, or I could make a conscious effort every day to show up with joy and purpose for myself and our two boys. Ryan was someone who didn’t leave anything on the table and he squeezed every last ounce of beauty, joy, and fun out of his life, although it was tragically cut short. To honor him, to me, means doing things that make my boys and I smile and laugh. It means filling our house with dancing, singing, love, and life.
Ryan’s death has actually allowed me to live life more fully and vibrantly. It has taught me we are truly not guaranteed our next breath and every moment is not something to take for granted or assume we are entitled to. I am so grateful and indebted to Ryan for loving me so perfectly and beautifully that I still feel his love and presence in my everyday life even after his death–in the sunrise and sunset, in my boy’s smiles, in a leisurely car ride with the windows down and the perfect song playing. I still feel hopeful there is love for me to find in this life because of the way Ryan loved me with such grace and ease.
It has been one of the hardest things to navigate life without the love of my life and partner, but having to manage everything by myself and excelling at it has given me strength and confidence I never knew I had inside me. My boys see a happy, healthy, and competent mother despite all the challenges our family has faced the last 8 months and we are settling into our lives as a family of three very imperfectly, but with lots of love to go around.
I only hope for those reading our story and for those who may be going through their own trauma or grief that you give yourselves grace in the chaos, the mess, and the darkness. It is an impossible place to find yourself, but I have learned you can let death write its story for you and define your future, or you can use it to write your own story and create your own future. When you lose someone so integral to your life, like a husband, it is the ultimate opportunity either to have it break you, or for personal growth and empowerment. The beauty of this life is that you get to decide what happens next after someone dies, even though it may seem like all control has been taken away from you. Remember, even in deep despair and sadness there is a redemption story waiting to be uncovered and for you to take advantage of. Death for the living is not the end, it is only the beginning.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Whitney Lyn Allen of Doylestown, PA. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and keep up with her memoir here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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