Calm, cool and collected – the unofficial motto of all 911 dispatchers. On June 7, Highland County dispatcher Jerri VanReenen, formerly of Pocahontas County, stuck to that motto in the face of a call no one is prepared to receive – a call about her son.
Following her regular routine, VanReenen answered the call and within seconds knew it was coming from her home in Monterey, Virginia.
“He called from a cell phone so I didn’t have the name immediately,” she said. “I knew it as soon as he said, ‘Jerri, it’s Mike.”
The caller, Mike Ralston, was mowing the lawn when Jerri’s five-year-old son, James, sneaked up behind him. Ralston backed up with the mower and collided with the child, causing injuries to his right leg.
Because she was the only dispatcher on-duty, VanReenen had to wait for a coworker to relieve her before she could go home.
“I got the call out, and I got a call to one of my fellow dispatchers and she said ‘I will be there as soon as possible,’” VanReenen recalled. “One of my deputies heard the tones go out and as soon as I finished the tones and answered the phone on the same call [regarding James], he was walking in the back door saying, ‘go, go home now.’”
VanReenen beat the ambulance to her house and was able to assess the injuries James sustained.
“Once I got to the house, of course, they had his leg covered up and said ‘don’t look at it,’ and I said, ‘I need to look at it,’” she said. “I looked and picked up the phone, and very calmly called the dispatch center back and said this isn’t a broken leg. I said ‘he’s got severe lacerations and missing digits, you need to call air care now.’”
After the paramedics arrived and agreed that James needed air evac, the ambulance drove him to the landing zone in Monterey, and he was flown to the University of Virginia hospital.
“He has severe skin lacerations to the leg, from right above his knee down to right above his ankle,” VanReenen said. “They did skins grafts on that. He lost his big toe and his fourth toe, and his peroneal nerve was clipped. He also has some broken bones in his foot and his second toe is broken.”
Through the ordeal, James has stayed strong beyond his years.
“James has done surprisingly well,” VanReenen said. “He’s been amazing through the whole thing. He’s had his days and his moments, but they said they saw adults do worse than he did. He had three surgeries and a sedation. He’s taken everything in stride. When we did the dressing change yesterday, he looked at it and said, ‘wow mommy, that looks really good.’”
After 13 days in the hospital, James returned home on June 20. He has a long road ahead of him, but he isn’t letting anything stop him.
“Right now, he’s in a splint and a knee immobilizer because he’s not allowed to bend his knee right now,” VanReenen said. “We’re looking at four weeks of dressing changes and I don’t know how long we’re looking at therapy. We’ve got to go back down on Friday and hopefully get a walking boot put on.
“He’s getting to where he can move himself around,” she continued. “He scoots all over the place. He’s doing really well.”
VanReenen said she is amazed by the outpouring from community members after news of James’ accident spread.
“Everybody has helped so much,” she said. “Phone calls, visits, donations – they’ve been a big help to me.”
To make a donation to help with expenses visit www.gofundme.com/a3taag
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org