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Ryan conquers foes medically, physically
10-year-old Farragut wrestling champ, track/football standout beats critical infection, returns successful

Thank you, Sandy, for some quick thinking to save your great-nephew.

A 10-year-old Farragut boy, quickly establishing himself as one of East Tennessee’s most talented child athletes, almost saw his career on the brink of crashing early in 2007.

He could have died from a serious MRSA staph infection in his finger last January — or at least lost his finger.

But Ryan Parker recovered to the point of going 49-0 as a wrestler against state, regional and national competition last year.

“Luckily we caught his early enough — we were a couple of days away from him losing his finger … it is a nasty, nasty infection,” said Bill Parker, Ryan’s father. “It’s killed several people [in 2007], people that did not get it treated.”

In a 90-minute span during a practice, Ryan’s index finger on his left hand had swollen “from a bug bite” before practice to “probably twice the size of normal” afterwards, Bill said.

The next day, a Friday, found Ryan in the emergency room at Parkwest Medical Center being given antibiotics and an IV.

Though released, Ryan’s hand began swelling “and he had a red line going up his arm,” Bill said.

“It was terrible, we were scared to death,” he added. “Luckily, one of the doctors [at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville] decided to go ahead and really open up his finger, lancing the area. … I think that’s what attributes to saving that finger.”

This fifth-grader at A.L. Lotts Elementary School, a three-time AAU national champion tournament wrestler in addition to special talents in track and field and football, also had critical assistance from his great-aunt and grandmother.

Two days after first noticing the infection — and one day after his emergency room visit to Parkwest — Samantha Parker, Ryan’s mother, got a critical warning.

Samantha’s aunt, Sandy Serafin, “worked at a doctor’s office” and advised her through her mother, Connie DeJacna, “to immediately take him to the emergency room,” further warning the infection “could go to his brain,” Samantha said.

Though about 12 children were ahead of Ryan in the Children’s Hospital emergency room waiting area, Ryan went in almost immediately. It was that serious.

“He ended up with nine I-Vs, his veins were collapsing,” Samantha said, adding she was later told by UT Medical Center surgeons “‘you were 24 hours from us amputating that finger. … 48 hours and he could have lost his life.’

“I’m totally blown away.”

Ryan said upon first being admitted in the hospital, “I was really scared. When they had to cut my finger open ... I always held my mom’s hand. Whenever I was in pain I would always squeeze my mom’s hand.”

Although out of danger upon release from the hospital, Ryan “was not the same kid,” Bill said.

Memory loss was evident in a child who, in the classroom, “is a straight-A student, honors classes,” Bill said.

“The medications that he was put on were so strong that it basically ate away at his stomach lining,” Bill added. “He wasn’t able to hold down any food, didn’t want to eat for probably a month-and-a-half, two months.”

In addition, “his whole thought process was altered for probably three months,” Bill said. “We started seeing some grades come in that weren’t normal. … His concentration level was just not there.”

Though Bill said MRSA and the drugs to treat it can cause permanent damage to brain function, Ryan’s concentration and, as a result, his grades “are outstanding” again.

However, Bill said Ryan was back wrestling “probably three weeks after he got out of the hospital. We didn’t know, really, what toll that took on his body, until he was wrestling. He was not the same kid.”

However, Ryan kept winning, earning the 2007 AAU State Championship in March at Roane State Community College, Harriman. “He had 12 kids in his bracket, and he ended up pinning all 12,” Bill said.

Ryan capped 2007 by winning Dixie Brute Nationals in Atlanta, Ga., Friday, Dec. 28, in the 10-and-under 95-pound weight class. He also was named 2007 Most Valuable Wrestler in his age group among a 12-man field, which in addition to Georgia and Tennessee, included wrestlers from New York, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Ryan took first-place at 2007 USA Wrestling State Championships in Chattanooga and won the 2007 AAU All-American Youth Grand Nationals in Knoxville April 2 as a 9-year-old in the 90-pound class among a five-state field.

Ryan also was invited to join the 2007 National Team Tennessee and competed at the Elementary Duals in Kingsport “against the best kids in the nation,” Bill said, as Ryan won four of seven matches in the 90, 95 and 103 classes.

The next national tournament Ryan and his family are targeting is Hershey, Pa., Jan. 26, one of five tournaments affiliated with the Dixie Nationals circuit nationwide during its 2007-08 season that began in November.

“What he’s trying to do is get the triple crown, which means he wins three out of the five tournaments,” Bill said.

With the Dixie National crown in Atlanta already in the bag for Ryan this season, other “circuit” tourneys are Liberty Nationals, Kansas City, Mo. [Feb. 14] and in San Francisco. Ryan did not compete in Big Horn Nationals in Loveland, Colo., last fall.

Thought it all, “Every goal he set for himself, he accomplished [last] year,” Samantha said. “I just really feel that I’m blessed every day that we have, and we have to appreciate every moment we have because something so minor like that can change everything.”

After a standout youth football season as a runningback/defensive end, Ryan focused back on wrestling when he began practicing with Catholic High School’s Wrestling team, his future high school where he also plans to play football.

Too much for a 10-year-old? “He had an exhibition match against South-Doyle [High School’s] 103-pounder, and pinned him in 40 seconds,” Bill said.

About his goals, Ryan said, “There’s two big things, one is called the triple crown, and the other is being a four-time state [wrestling] champion for Catholic High School.”

As for Ryan original interest in wrestling, Bill said his son’s Junior Hoppers (7-year-olds) football coach noticed Ryan’s aggressive nature and said “‘you’d probably like wrestling.’ He absolutely fell in love with it.

“He has a very strong upper body and doesn’t mind going at it,” Bill added. “He doesn’t understand that a 14-year-old kid ought to be able to beat up on him.”

And there’s time for track and field.

Ryan competed in the 2007 Indoor Nationals Track and Field in UT’s Stokely Athletics Center among a 950-member field, where he placed second in the triathlon, second in shot put, and high jump and fourth in 50-meter dash.

“In the 100-yard dash, he’s [among the] top 40 fastest kids in the nation,” Bill said.

Bill said he first noticed Ryan’s talent as a 2-year-old hitting balls with a bat. “His agility and his balance has always been good.”

On the gridiron at KCHS in the coming years, Ryan sees himself as a “wide receiver, and the other is tailback or fullback.”

With a goal to play football at Notre Dame University, “I really want to do that,” Ryan said. “I watched this one movie at two-years-old called ‘Rudy’ and it was a really inspiring movie. I’ve really wanted to go to Notre Dame ever since then.”


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