Audrey Ruf’s Story – July 15, 2009
When I was a little girl I did not dream of having a wonderful career or a big house, I dreamed of being a mom. When Danny was born I had just turned 19. I raised Danny on my own. I guess in many ways we grew up together. We went through our share of life’s ups and downs but together we always could make it to the other end no matter what the struggle and we even managed to come out stronger and closer.
The 22 years we had together were the best days of my life. He was so much fun. He grew up to be an amazing young man, a best friend to all who knew him and even those who did not. He truly cared about people and wanted to do what he could to help anyone who needed it. Danny was the best kid a mom could wish for.
Danny put himself through college by working 2 jobs; he even took the bus to college an hour away until we could get him a car. Danny never complained. He made the most of every situation by enjoying the moment and time with friends. By the time Danny was 21 he was a GM Certified Mechanic and had his Associates Degree. This is quite an achievement for a boy raised by a single mom who can barely figure out where to put the oil. The economy caused the dealership to close down and Danny became unemployed for the first time.
Danny signed up for the marines on May 1, 2009 with a boot camp date of July 13. Danny was a very muscular man weighing 215 pounds at 5ft 9. The marines wanted him to weigh 190 before he could start boot camp. They suggested he take water pills and laxatives, go on a water only diet as well as exercise in a rubber suit. He tried but 190 was an unachievable weight for Danny’s body type.
Danny became frustrated because he could not get his weight down even though he was dieting and working out and decided not to join the marines but did not want to let the recruiter down. Finally on July 6, 2009 Danny went in and told them he could not lose the weight and wanted to quit. They were angry and they told him that he had a tremendous opportunity to be “recon” which Danny loved the idea of …. and they gave him a new weight requirement of 199lbs and said they would check into an opening for July 27. So Danny said he would give it one more try.
The next day they told Danny the slot for July 27th was full so he would need to be the 199lbs by July 20th (16lbs in 13 days). On July 14, Danny was 211pounds and the recruiter said that was not good enough and instructed Danny to report the next morning to the gym where the recruiter worked out as his guest for one-on-one training and time in the sauna. The recruiter told Danny to wear the rubber sauna suit underneath a hooded sweat suit.
Danny came in my room on July 14 2009 and said, “Mom I don’t want to wear the sauna suit.” I told him if the recruiter told him to do it he should listen because they know what will be best for him. I will never ever forget my words. I could have saved my son. He said, “Okay, mom,” and went to bed.
On the morning of 7/15/2009 we texted back and forth because he said he was not sure if the marines were right for him. He did not know if he could lose the weight and was worried about the 4 year commitment. He told me he was going to try his hardest and if he makes weight he will go and if not then we would just make a new plan, but he hates to fail. Danny said he was at 209lbs after breakfast that morning.
At 11:40 am I texted him, ”How was the sauna? I am going to try to get tomorrow off and I put in for Monday too :o)” but never heard back. The next call I received was from the local hospital telling me they found my number in his phone under “mom” and needed to know if I was Danny’s mom. They said there was an accident and I needed to get there right away. I said I was coming from a city away. The lady said, “You need to leave right now.” I knew then it was bad. I got to the hospital and they would not let me see Danny. I had to go into a room and they explained that Danny was brain damaged but they did not know the extent because he was unconscious and on life support. I prayed, “Please God, I don’t care how brain damaged he is; please don’t take him from me. “ I know that was selfish but he was the best thing that ever happened to me and I could not imagine life without him.
It kills me to know exertional heat stroke has a 100% survival rate if it is handled correctly within 10 minutes of collapse. I think of all the things that could have been done to save Danny. I hope that my sharing his story can help save someone else from this nightmare.
Danny had followed the recruiter’s instructions. They told Danny to go into the dry sauna then exercise on the bike. Danny was on the exercise bike for 16 minutes before he told the recruiter he did not feel well. They told him to sit down and drink some water but he lost consciousness while trying to get off of the bike. Danny collapsed at 10:55am.
At 5 minutes from the time he collapsed a lady from the gym went to the front desk to let them know what had happened. It was 8 minutes before someone poured water on Danny and that was only one 16.9 oz bottle. It was 10 minutes before 911 was called and 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. EMT’s found Danny unresponsive on the gym floor when they arrived he was awake but unresponsive to verbal stimuli… He was pale, hot to the touch and extremely diaphoretic. Finally Danny had someone who knew what to do during a heat related emergency but we had passed the critical 10 minute timeframe. It was 18 minutes before Danny’s sweat suit and the non breathable sauna suit was removed by the EMT’s. Once in the ambulance they put ice packs at his neck, auxiliary and groin and started an IV. It was 34 minutes from collapse that Danny made it to the hospital where his rectal temperature was 108. Danny was beginning to moan they continued with ice packs and NG tube to left nares with cold water infusion tube. After 52 minutes they had Danny’s temperature down to 104 but then Danny became agitated and combative and tried to pull out his IV. He had to be restrained then paralyzed for fear of further injury as well as his hyperactive state leading to more heat generation. At 1 hour and 23 minutes from collapse Danny’s temperature was at 105.7. Danny was intubated. Finally after 1 hour and 48 minutes his temperature was down to 102.2 After 3 hours and 36 minutes his temperature was 101.66
July 16, 2009 Danny’s assessment was acute renal failure rhabdomyolysis, vent dependent respiratory failure, heat exhaustion, elevated LFT’s, elevated CPK (highest level was 21,000), elevated troponin and thrombocytopenia. Potassium went up to 6.8 and his liver and renal function was also deteriorating.
On July 17 2009 Danny was transported to California Pacific Hospital in San Francisco where he was to have better care and we were hoping to get him a liver transplant. His renal failure worsened and Danny had no urinary output. Danny developed thrombocytopenia.
On July 21, 2009 Danny went for an urgent CT scan which determined that his organs were all shutting down and there would be nothing further they could do and he would no longer be a candidate for surgery. He never regained consciousness. Danny passed away at 8:42pm. The cause of death was multi-organ system failure, hyperthermia with dehydration, exercise with occlusive gear, mild cardiomegaly with myocycte hypertrophy.
My son was not only strong physically but also had strength of mind. He had the determination, persistence and loyalty to his instructing recruiter to continue to working out as he was instructed by that recruiter all the way to the point of collapse. Danny felt confident that the recruiter was committed to helping him succeed safely by passing on his knowledge and training one-on-one so in return Danny gave him every bit of strength he had. The recruiter later admitted he had no medical training yet he instructed my son to follow these radical weight loss methods.
My life is forever changed. I thought we would be together forever. I was the mom who called to verify it was legit before the sleep-over’s, the mom who stayed the whole soccer practice because you just never know, the mom who could protect my son from harm but in the end I failed. Danny was killed by negligence, the recruiter’s negligence but also for my negligence for not questioning or not knowing what could happen. I want to make sure that no other mother ever has to go through what I have been through. I want everyone to know that you can die from extreme dieting, sauna suits, saunas and exercise.
Sometimes it is so hard not to think about how wonderful our lives could have been… I can only imagine the joy I would have felt to watch Danny find true love, get married and have kids of his own. I imagine how amazing it would be to be a grandma, to have little Danny’srunning around and to see what an amazing dad he would have been …. I always thought one day I would even be a great grandma since we were only 19 years apart. Danny was cheated out of so many things he deserved to experience. Life goes on, even when yours stops. I watch his friends and my friends going through all these wonderful milestones and it is hard to accept that we will not get to experience those moments too. I know one day we will be together again. I hope with all of my heart that he has that loving wife and kids right now in Heaven and they will all be there waiting for me when it is finally my time. I wish I would have known that our time was limited. I never even imagined in my wildest thought that this would be our life…. I wish I could change so many things and said so many things and just loved him even harder on the outside… I think I was so focused on making sure he turned into a perfect adult I missed some moments. We grew up together in many ways so I know I was not the perfect mom but I believe without a doubt he knew how completely loved he was and that he was my world. Life is not fair and once you lose your “everything” it is too late to change your perspective so if you are reading this today please don’t miss any moments with your loved ones. You are blessed, embrace each and every minute.