Bowen Johnson, a first grader at Western Heights Elementary school in Westlake, walks down the hall with friend and classmate Kobey Collins, center, on Tuesday. (Brad Puckett / American Press).
Bowen Johnson, a first grader at Western Heights Elementary in Westlake, works on his school assignments with help from Brylie Fontenot after returning to school Tuesday. Johnson was back at school for the first time sincer going to cardiac arrest on April 11. (Brad Puckett / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:54 PM
First-grader Bowen Johnson celebrated his first day back at Western Heights Elementary on Tuesday after quick action by his teachers and school administrators saved his life two weeks ago.
Bowen, 7, had been absent since going into cardiac arrest during his PE period on April 11.
“He was running around outside, playing with his friends for just about two minutes before he headed to the slide,” said Ken Flue, the adapted physical education teacher for Western Heights. “He stepped on to the first step on the plastic playground and immediately collapsed. I didn’t know what was going on. I just went over to him.”
Flue moved Bowen out of the sun and into the shade. He said he had to check for a pulse in both wrists and then his neck before he found a faint one. Bowen was barely breathing, but soon got to the point where he could no longer breathe on his own. Flue then began to perform rescue breathing and CPR on Bowen.
Meanwhile, April Jones, an aide for the special-education class, ran to the front office to tell them to call 911. Secretary Rhonda Cortez grabbed her cellphone and dialed 911 as she ran to Flue and Bowen’s side.
“I grabbed my cellphone because I knew they were going to need me to answer questions. I was relaying what they said to do to Mr. Ken the whole time,” Cortez said.
Jones and Courtney Devall, an occupational therapist, opened the gates to let in the fire truck and ambulance.
Flue kept Bowen breathing for the 10 minutes and nine seconds between his collapse and the EMTs’ arrival.
The school had also called Bowen’s parents, Steve and Eva Johnson, to let them know of their son’s collapse. They arrived shortly before the EMTs.
“I was in shock. To see our son lying on the ground unconscious, he wasn’t breathing,” said Eva Johnson. “It was hard. It’s not something you see with children.”
Cortez said she remembered Johnson standing at her son’s feet and repeating, “Breathe, Bowen, breathe.”
When the EMTs arrived they had to use the defibrillator to start Bowen’s heart. They said that if Flue had not helped Bowen continue breathing, he could have died before they arrived.
“Everything worked just right. Everything was real surreal. When they put the paddles on him, I couldn’t watch that part,” Flue said. “He’s a very special kid, and it was definitely a God thing.”
Bowen was taken to Christus St. Patrick Hospital before being flown to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.
“It was the school’s quick response that basically ensured that our son stayed alive,” Johnson said.
This was not the first medical emergency that Bowen has faced during his short life.
In October 2008, Bowen was trapped in a house fire and his body was badly burned. After he was rescued, doctors gave him a 2 percent chance of survival.
He stayed in a local hospital recovering until January when he was finally strong enough to be taken to a burn center in Cincinnati.
“He had to spend 3 1/2 months completely immobile. Then he went through all of the grafts and had to relearn how to walk, how to feed himself, to do anything on his own,” Johnson said. “He never stopped. Even when I knew it hurt him, he didn’t stop.”
Johnson attributes Bowen’s resilient spirit and fun personality to his amazing recovery. Bowen was able to return home later that year, though he must return to the burn center about twice a year for checkups and new skin grafts.
Two years ago Bowen was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick, making it difficult for the organ to pump blood. After his recent cardiac arrest, Bowen had to get an implantable cardio-defibrillator inserted to help monitor any arrhythmias. This marked his 21st surgery.
Because of all of Bowen’s scar tissue due to the burns, the only place doctors were able to insert the ICD was in his right shoulder.
“He was in surgery for 5 1/2 hours while they tried to find a place and then tested to make sure it worked,” Johnson said. “They said the right arm was riskier than the left because it is farther away from his heart, but the left shoulder was unusable.”
After a short recovery time, Bowen was able to return home and back to his normal routine.
“He has had so many things come at him, it’s just amazing,” Johnson said. “I count my blessings every day.”
For the first responders at Western Heights, having Bowen back at school is “nothing short of a miracle.”
“I’m so glad to see him. I’m glad he’s back,” Jones said. “He’s running around like nothing ever happened.”
“Bowen is probably one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met,” Flue said. “No matter what happens he just bounces right back. He’s just amazing.”
Bowen’s entire class welcomed him back, but it was his two best friends and “special helpers” that missed him and worried about him the most.
“I really missed him. I was worried because he was in surgery,” said classmate Isabella Young, who helps Bowen write and hold his school supplies. “When he came back he said he had stitches in his arm so I’m even more worried about that.”
“It’s good he is back,” his other helper, Brylie Fontenot, said. “Today I helped him get his tray at lunch.”
Energetic as always, Bowen spent his first day back at school running around with his friends, playing his favorite “SuccessMaker” computer game, and watching an episode of “The Magic School Bus.”
“I’m happy I’m back, but now I have homework,” Bowen sighed.
Posted By: Sheila Murry On: 4/26/2012
Title: Amazing Kid
Being a retired teacher from Western Heights & a former co-worker of Ken Flue & Rhonda Cortez, I am SO proud of them for their quick actions to save Bowen's life. I know, & I know that Mr. Ken agrees, that there was a higher power working in this situation. We may not be able to pray to God publicly at school but that doesn't mean that God is not present in our schools. And I, for one, am thankful for that Almighty presence being there for Bowen. Bowen is one amazing kid.
Posted By: Vanessa Wallace On: 4/25/2012
Amazing just simply amazing. What a HERO Coach Ken and the Staff at Western Heights . They should all be proud of themselves . I myself being a resistance of Westlake would like them to know we are very Proud and Thankful for each and everyone that helped to save this precious child's life. I really believe Coach Ken deserves a HERO'S award for the amazing thing he has done here.
Posted By: Kimberly On: 4/25/2012
Title: Heart Felt
He has a angel following his footsteps,his story should be made into a lifetime movie or a book.It's very touching&inspiring.
Posted By: Darla Permenter On: 4/25/2012
Title: our Heroes
We all have our heroes and thanks heroes and I am sure today Bowman and his family consider Mr. Flute as one of Bowman,s heroes.They tell us we can't bring God up in our schools and talk about or pray to him anymore. I am not taking anything away from Mr. Flute b ut I am here to tell you that God is still on the Throne.Thank Mr. Flute for his rescue attempts but also know it is still our God who decides when we take the last breath. To Bowmans parents it sounds like you have one wonderful son. May God bless you all.