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Creating Purpose from Pain

July 22, 2013

My name is Deona Ryan. I live in Summerville, South Carolina where I work as a nurse. On February 7, 2004, my life changed forever.

That was the day I lost my daughter to heatstroke.

My daughter, Aslyn, was a beautiful and bright-eyed baby girl. She was full of so much joy, and such a happy baby. On the day of the tragedy, Aslyn was playing in the kitchen with her daddy. She was tugging on his pant leg, wanting him to read her favorite book about turtles. She loved reading time almost as much as she loved watching her favorite TV show, Bear in the Big Blue House. After reading her book and watching her show, her daddy dropped Aslyn off at the babysitter’s house.

Later that afternoon, life as we knew it ended.

Sometime that morning, our babysitter left the house and got into her car. She drove off to run a few errands and left our daughter alone in the car while she was out. We were living in Hawaii at the time so although it was only February, the temperature was 85 degrees.

That afternoon we received a devastating phone call. Our daughter was having trouble breathing. Her dad rushed to the babysitter’s house and rode in an ambulance to the children’s emergency room.

I rushed from work at a nearby hospital to be with our daughter. On arrival to the ER, things were really bad. I was not prepared for what I saw. No parent, or medical professional for that matter, would be.

Although doctors and nurses were struggling diligently to save her life, Asyln’s body temperature had reached a critical 106 degrees. She suffered brain damage from a lack of oxygen during the time she was left alone in the hot car. After two days of blood transfusions, tests and medications, our baby lost her fight.

We held our little angel in our arms as she died. As the shock of what happened hit us, we tried to cope with the loss of our little girl. Days turned to months and we still wondered how this could have happened. It felt as though we were in a nightmare that we wanted to wake from, but couldn't. Many people never recover from the loss of a child, especially when the death is completely avoidable.

My family’s new mission in life is to make sure other parents never feel the grief of losing a child from being left in a hot car. This journey of grief is one that nobody should have to take.

That’s why we’re calling on all families to avoid heatstroke by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own. 

I have learned many things through this loss. Asyln made me a better person, just by being her mother. I learned that even in the shortest dash through life, one can leave a lasting legacy. She inspires everything I do.

It's hard to believe that Aslyn would have been 9 years old this year. Her life made a lasting impact on a lot of people. I believe that she is cheering me on from heaven and know that she would be proud that we are trying to save other families by sharing our story.

In Aslyn’s honor, we are working to create educational programs and support legislation to protect children all over the nation. In Hawaii, my family worked with legislators to create a new law that requires driver’s tests to include information about the dangers of heatstroke.

When I think of how many children have been saved by those of us advocating for education and safety, I feel hopeful and know Aslyn would be proud. While we may never know the faces or names, I know that telling our story is helping to save lives.