ELKHART — A South Bend preschooler received a special send-off Friday four days after his death.
William “Liam” Lane, 4, of South Bend, was a lover of music, Legos and firefighters.
He was a student in Trinity Lutheran School’s preschool program in Elkhart. His best friends were the firefighters who saved his life more than once – the responders of the Clay Township Fire Department, who, upon hearing about his unexpected death, wanted to do what they could to honor their fallen friend.
Liam met his lifelong friends Sept. 1, 2016, when he had his first grand mal seizure.
“He stopped breathing, was compulsive, he went paralyzed and we didn’t know what to do,” his mother Kaytee Lane said. “So we called 911 and Brenden Goodman arrived with his team, and they took him to the hospital and ever since then it’s been an instant connection.”
The team didn’t stop caring about Liam once they reached the hospital, though. They kept checking with the family to see how he was doing.
“The biggest thing for us as firefighters is that we deal with mental health differently. We (show) empathy on different levels than a normal person,” said Goodman, a Clay Township firefighter and paramedic. “A lot of times, in our line of work, we show up, we take care of the situation and we leave. We never hear from the family again, but then we sit back and wonder if we did the right thing and what happened to that kid or that grandma. Did they die? Did they make it? We don’t know.”
A year later, Liam went into cardiac arrest. It was one of many times he would experience heart failure, and the same team brought him to the hospital. The team was excited to see the boy again, thinking he’d had another seizure and they’d have the opportunity to enjoy some time with their little friend.
“When they walked in and saw him, their demeanor completely changed,” Lane recalled. “Ever since then, they have held a special place in our hearts and they loved him and we’d visit them at the fire station.”
After the third time, Liam was transferred to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where he stayed periodically on and off for the next two years of his life.
“He thrived with music,” Lane said. “He loved ‘Hamilton the Musical,’ to the point that it was in his chart at the hospital, when he was upset, to play Hamilton.”
They discovered that Liam had a condition that made it difficult for him to metabolize potassium, and his inability to perform that essential function caused him frequent heart attacks.
To make it easier to make her family and friends aware of Liam’s medical needs, Lane created a Facebook page, William’s Warriors: Liam’s Medical Journey. According to the page, Liam was scheduled to visit the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, next week, and the family was attempting to raise money to get him there.
His doctor has yet to find anyone else with the same condition, Lane said, but the family and medical team grew accustomed to noticing the symptoms of hyperkalemia, or high potassium, in Liam and treating him before the heart attacks came.
Still, the toll on Liam’s education, abilities and relationships was taxing. Liam suffered frequent seizures, vomiting and heart attacks due to his lack of ability to regulate potassium.
“Recently we were really struggling with news we had gotten about (Liam’s) ability level and what the future may look like for him,” his mother said. “I was struggling with the idea that yeah, he’s got adult people who love him, but will he have childhood friends? I ranted on Facebook a little bit about it, and then I got a call from Brenden and all the Clay firemen and they were like, ‘Can Liam’s friends come over for a pizza party?’”
Sunday night, the firefighters came to the Lane’s house, not on an emergency call, but to join Liam and his family for a fun night.
“They played with him and with Raelynn and she dressed them like princesses. It was a really special time and I am so happy we were able to do it,” Lane said.
The party was eerie timing, though; by Monday night, Liam was hospitalized again, after having just returned Thursday night.
Liam was having more seizures than normal and he was lethargic Monday night, so his parents drove to Lurie to have a video EEG performed. There, they noticed the monitors picking up premature ventricular contractions, so he was taken to the cardiac ICU.
“We brought him up there and we did the plan,” Lane said. “The plan is always, the same medications at the same time in the same amounts, and it always works, and it did work; it brought his potassium back down … but he wasn’t recovering.”
Liam was struggling to breath, and still lethargic. Four hours later, the young boy was in respiratory distress, which led to respiratory failure.
“I was prepared for him to be intubated and sedated and paralayzed for a couple days until they could fix whatever was wrong, and then all of the sudden I hear the Code Blue alarms go off and I see the team go running and at that point his heart had stopped.”
Liam died Tuesday morning. Despite their son’s medical conditions, Lane and her husband weren’t expecting it.
“It was always in the back of my head, but he always recovered. So in my head, I assumed he would recover, but he just couldn’t,” she said.
When Goodman got the call about the boy’s passing, he initiated a plan that his team had already been considering.
“The thing about Liam was that we knew that this day would eventually come. We were hoping not, but we knew that day could be there,” he said. “One of the biggest ways to be able to heal with this stuff is to honor those that we love that we lose.”
His co-workers at the Clay Township Fire Department, along with those of seven other departments, honored Liam on Friday morning as they assisted the family in transporting his body to Stemm-Lawson-Peterson Funeral Home in Elkhart.
Chicago Police Department and Axemen Illinois Chicago led a procession to the state line, where they were met by the Indiana State Police, Axemen MC Indiana Chapters 1 and 3, New Carlisle Fire Department, Warren Township Fire Department, Clay Fire Department, South Bend Fire Department, Mishawaka Fire Department, Cleveland Township Fire Department, Osolo Fire Department, Elkhart City Police Department, St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department and Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, who all assisted the procession in their respect territories, honoring the young boy.
“His smile was infectious and he was so loved by so many people,” Lane said. We keep saying he must have been too perfect for here because he was so special.”
Liam was able to be an organ donor.
“To be honest, we didn’t think Liam could be a donor of any sort. They called me and told me that we could give permission for the donation of a heart valve to a child, and cartilage from his legs to a child,” Lane said. “We had witnessed so many children waiting for hearts. I met families waiting for livers and kidneys, so many organs.”
Liam’s 5-year-old sister Raelynn said the two never argued and that he was always fun to be around.
“I made a book called ‘Liam’s Memories’ and I put all of his favorite things into it,” she said.
Raelynn added her gratitude toward those involved in the procession for her younger brother.
In lieu of flowers, Liam’s parents requested that funeral attendees bring Legos, which will be donated to the Lurie Children’s Hospital.
“He loved Legos,” Lane said. “He had a Lego table. He was never interested in making what the kit was supposed to make. It was always whatever he made.”