Sutherland Springs: Meet the team of doctors that saved 6-year-old Ryland Ward’s life

With permission from his family, we're hearing from the team of doctors at University Hospital that saved six-year-old Ryland Ward's life. (Photo courtesy the family)

SAN ANTONIO - It's been more than three months since the Sutherland Springs shooting. We've heard from survivors and families and first responders -- but, with permission from his family, we're hearing from the team of doctors at University Hospital that saved six-year-old Ryland Ward's life.

Delaine Mathieu has their powerful story.

"When we first got the alert, it was that there had been an incident in Sutherland Springs," said Dr. Lillian Liao, Pediatric Trauma and Burn Director at University Hospital. "EMS had not arrived there yet. We just knew that there had been a gunman and people were injured. We had nine patients, four of them were children.”

“I was assigned Ryland as soon as he came in. He had injuries in his arm, his leg and in his abdomen. And then there [were] other injuries that we couldn't see, but you could tell that he was in shock and what that means is he's lost a lot of blood," Dr. Liao explained. "We stabilized him in the emergency room and then pretty much right away we went up to the operating room."

“His x-ray came in then took shots of his left femur and hip," said Adriel Castaneda, OR Patient Care Coordinator. "It was extensive. There was barely any of the femur left of the proximal portion of femur - just shattered."

"So he had one entry wound on the front of his hip which shattered most of his proximal femur," said Dr. Grant Hogue, Division Chief of Pediatric Orthopedics at UT Health. "And also went into his actual pelvis, so if you're talking about a ball in a socket, the ball has exploded and parted the socket was hit as well although not as bad.”

"Our very first order of business in regards to trying to put his leg back together was determining exactly what bone he had left and what we can do with this kind of jigsaw puzzle bits of bone,” explained Dr. Hogue.

At least five high-caliber bullets and fragments of debris from inside the church had nearly destroyed parts of Ryland's left side. His first two days at University were spent piecing back together his arm, leg and pelvis.

“We placed two metal pins into his distal femur," said Dr. Hogue. "And then one into the top of his pelvis -- and his pelvis just above his hip joint. Then we connected them through a system of bars and connectors to hold the bones in the right place almost like a like a metal cast."

Over the course of the next two weeks, Ryland would undergo a surgery every other day. Doctors had done all they could do.

"We hope it's enough. We hope it's in time, and then we pray," said Dr. Hogue. "When you see someone like that you can't help but think of your own family and how you would want them taken care of and that's what we tried to do for Ryland.”

Doctors at University Hospital had carefully reconstructed his pelvis and leg. His arm and abdominal injuries had also been repaired. It was time to let his body do the rest.

"He was so respectful," said Kenneth Harvey, a Registered Nurse. "If we did anything for him, he would tell you, ‘Thank you sir. No sir.’"

Kenneth Harvey was one of the nurses who cared for him round the clock.

"I asked him are you in any pain? That's a first order of business," he said. "Obviously, with his extensive injuries you want to make sure that's well controlled. So, he said no. Very tough little boy -- [he] would not let you know he's actually in pain until it gets too bad."

But with every passing day, Ryland got stronger.

"Luckily, he's a child," said Dr. Hogue. "And children are incredible at just about everything - much more so than adults -- but definitely in healing bones."

In weeks, he was walking and climbing and laughing.

But the shooting in Sutherland Springs had a profound impact on this team. It was the first mass casualty event for University Hospital. Nine victims were brought in -- four of them kids, including one of Ryland's sisters, Emily, whom they could not save.

"The part where I'm a physician and I'm focused on caring for the injured patient and doing the best that we can," explained Dr. Liao through tears. "That part is pretty easy, I think. But you, as a person, begin to think about the lives forever changed because of the shooting -- and that is heartbreaking."

The day he walked out of the hospital was a day they say they'll never forget.

“I think that was an incredible moment," said Dr. Liao. "I don't think there was a dry eye in the crowd."

"I was standing outside at a window as he left in the fire truck," said Dr. Hogue. "It was pretty incredible for all of us.

The doctors at University Hospital helped mend Ryland's body... but he helped mend their spirit. They were able to send him back home to a community who desperately needed what he represents: hope.

"I am incredibly proud of you," said Dr. Liao in a message to Ryland. "I cannot imagine going through what you went through, but I am so proud of you for all that you've done. And I hope that you will take this opportunity to do great things with your life.”

Before Ryland got to the hospital, two tourniquets had been placed on his arm and leg – which doctors say helped save his life. University has a program that teaches kids, students and adults about how to apply them. For more information, go to

Messages to Ryland

Dr. Lillian Liao, Pediatric Trauma and Burn Director
"I am incredibly proud of you. I cannot imagine going through what you went through but I am so proud of you for all that you've done. And I hope that you will take this opportunity to do great things with your life."

Dr. Grant Hogue, Division Chief, Pediatric Orthopedics
"Ryland, thank you. You're an incredible young man. You have not only changed your town, the medical staff here -- you've changed this hospital. You've changed the people who work here. And I'll have a water balloon for you at the next appointment."

Kenneth Harvey, Registered Nurse
"Hey Ryland. I don't know if you remember me or not buddy but hopefully one day you get to come see us and say hi and maybe Mr. Chris will bring a cup of coffee down and we'll have a cup of coffee together with your Uncle Michael. And you know we'll just say hi and we'll hang out for a little bit if that's all right with you. Thank you."

Adriel Castaneda, OR Patient Care Coordinator
"I know you don't know who I am. We definitely know who you are in the operating room. We want to wish you the best. We are so proud and thankful that you stepped out of this hospital and from the care that we gave you. Please just want to say don't take anything for granted. You're a great little boy and I know you great grow up to be a great guy. Thanks Ryland."

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