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David Minton

Sanger salutes hero

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Fire department honors fourth-grader’s actions to help save mom’s life

Dialing 911 may be simple, but 9-year-old Gavin Dillard learned a little over a year ago that it takes more to handle a medical emergency.

The Sanger fourth-grader was ready for bed, having finished up a bit of homework and read another installment from his favorite vampire series by Darren Shan, Cirque du Freak, when his mother called out to him.

Theresa Dillard had told Gavin a few minutes earlier that she wasn’t feeling well and had gone to her bedroom across the hall from his.

“Call ’Nana,” she’d called out. “I’ve been shocked.”

To Gavin, that meant something different than it might mean to another boy his age. His mother was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect. Some of the defect was corrected with surgery when she was a child. But in the years since her husband was killed in a traffic accident, her heart has had some trouble.

After she got pneumonia and her racing heart rate wouldn’t slow down with medication, her doctors implanted a pacemaker and a defibrillator.

Her heart rarely needs what the defibrillator does, and when it does activate, she gets just one or two shocks at the most.

A few minutes into the call, Gavin hung up on his grandmother. His mother told him to hang up and call 911 instead.

Her implanted defibrillator would shock her heart — energy that feels like getting kicked in the chest by a horse, Dillard said — a total of 53 times in the next 43 minutes.

The 911 dispatcher had lots of instructions for Gavin, he said. He was to run and turn on the porch and kitchen lights for the paramedics, who were on their way. He was to relay the names of five medications his mother was taking.

The dispatcher tried to talk him through taking his mother’s pulse at her wrist, but he couldn’t find it — even medical professionals measure it at her neck because of what her heart disease has done to her veins and arteries, Dillard said.

Instead, the dispatcher had him say “OK” each time he saw his mother exhale as he held her hand the whole time.

Her chest was becoming red from all the shocks, Gavin said, and “her nail went into my skin, but that was OK.”

Soon, the paramedics arrived and they, too, had trouble finding a vein for medicine that would calm her heart and quiet the defibrillator.

The paramedics talked to mother and son, to help keep them calm, Dillard said.

She felt a little guilty for being sick and putting her son through the situation, Dillard said, but she was trying to stay focused and calm for him. She could see he was trying to stay calm for her, too.

Friends arrived to help Gavin pack — his mom clearly had an extended hospital stay ahead. He watched paramedics lift his mom into the ambulance and after they headed down the road, that’s when Gavin finally broke down, Dillard learned from friends.

Dillard was home after about a week and is on the mend.

The Sanger Fire Department honored Gavin last week during its annual observance of Fire Prevention Week.

All the fourth-graders at Clear Creek Elementary, many of whom already knew what happened that September day, were there when the Sanger Fire Department named Gavin a “911 Hero.”

More than once since then someone has asked Gavin what it means to him to be called a hero.

“I’m not a hero,” he says. “I just do what my mom tells me to do.”

Theresa Dillard covers her face, embarrassed but still proud of her son.

“He keeps saying that,” Dillard says. “I keep hoping he has a different answer.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is .