After health scare, high school athlete thankful to be graduating

WEDDINGTON, N.C. — When Ethan O’Neil isn’t hanging out with his dad or their three dogs, you can find him running track at Weddington High School. But a sudden health scare this year knocked him off his feet and into the ICU.

“I had difficulty breathing, shortness of breath. And then after a couple hours, I just throw up a bunch of blood. And we went straight to the ER,” he told Channel 9′s Erika Jackson.

Doctors at Atrium Health discovered O’Neil had severe, uncontrollable bleeding in his gastrointestinal tract. Ethan doesn’t remember much from that incident, but his dad Tom certainly does.

“At some point, you start getting to a point where the doctors keep coming back to you and saying things aren’t working. And you’re like, I don’t know if he’s going to come home,” his dad said while filled with emotion.

“He received a total of 40 units of blood. And if you compare that to someone his size or a normal adult male, that’s about six blood volumes, or their entire blood volume six times,” said Dr. Lynn Schiffern, the emergency general surgery medical director at Atrium Health Pineville.

Dr. Schiffern and Dr. Paul Banish with Atrium Pineville tell me Ethan’s condition was critical and rare for an otherwise healthy teen.

“He was not responding to the amount of blood they were giving in that it was fairly significant,” Banish said. “And they were directing his care between the gastroenterologist, the radiologist, and then eventually surgery.”

“He looked dead at that point. He wasn’t moving. His skin was pale,” Tom O’Neil said.

Tom said Ethan was in a similar condition 13 years ago following abdominal surgery to fix a sports-related injury. Dr. Banish said that made this procedure more difficult.

“Wasn’t exactly easy to find the source of the bleeding right away,” Banish said. “It took us some time, but eventually, we were able to control and decrease the blood flow to that area.”

Ethan was off life support within 48 hours and discharged from the hospital 10 days after surgery. He remembers taking recovery one step at a time, but he was determined to get back onto the track before the end of his senior year.

“I knew that as long as I put in the work, and I can train every single day and I did the physical therapy, and I just worked to try and get back to where it was,” he said.

While Ethan’s proud of being back and can run nearly as fast as before, he said the real victory will be walking the graduation stage next week.

“I just have a really large appreciation for life and the fact that I’m still here to even be able to live it,” he said.

Ethan plans to attend Florida State University in the fall. Instead of running track, he says he wants to play intermural volleyball.

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