WESTWOOD Students lined the sidewalk in front of Fairview Elementary School on Wednesday morning to welcome back one of their very own.
The group of second-graders held signs they had decorated with rainbows and welcoming remarks while peering in every direction, anticipating the arrival of a miraculous classmate.
The kiddos were corralled to line the entrance of the school, as teachers informed them that their friend would be rolling in with a fleet of first responder vehicles shortly.
Katlynn Eitniear was the grand marshal to her return to normalcy.
Some students stomped their feet, showing off their light-up shoes, and others pointed up to a bird’s nest where they believed they had discovered a baby bird.
“I bet the baby wants to see Katlynn come back, too,” one student remarked.
Celebratory tunes played over the loudspeaker, as requested by a little girl who seemed to dance away her anticipation of her friend’s arrival.
Just four months ago, the atmosphere of the school was a drastic difference compared to Wednesday morning’s when Katlynn, a second-grader, collapsed on the playground.
Boyd County Sheriff Deputy Richard Howard said a week before the day of Katlynn’s medical emergency, he was asked by principal Leslie Workman to overlook the playground.
Just a week into his newly assigned role, Howard was watching the playground when he saw an instructional aide waving her arms for help.
“I’ve seen so much,” Howard said, describing the moment he ran over to see Katlynn lying on the ground.
Howard described the scene as any first responder would — the former EMT detailed Katlynn’s appearance, noting her fixed pupils, discolored lips and lack of respiration. “I knew she was deceased,” he said.
The playground where students typically dash and play had turned frantic as a nurse of the elementary school approached the scene with a defibrillator.
Howard couldn’t recall how long he performed CPR, saying the world stood still as the nurse shocked Katlynn’s heart back into rhythm.
By the time the fire department arrived, Howard said Katlynn was crying and he knew she was OK for that moment.
Howard mentioned divine intervention, explaining that had he not been “assigned” to watch the playground, how differently things could have been that day.
Katlynn’s caregiver, Melissa Allen, said Katlynn suffered from Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart disease that causes thickening of the heart muscles, making it harder for the heart to pump.
At the time of Katlynn’s code on the playground, she already had an internal defibrillator.
Allen detailed the strenuous journey Katlynn endured to get her well enough to return to school, stating her girl was brave and extraordinarily strong.
According to Allen, Katlynn was transported from King’s Daughters Medical Center to Norton’s Children’s Hospital in Louisville where she was placed on a ventilator and added to a heart transplant list in October.
A week before Thanksgiving, Katlynn was given an opportunity to have a normal childhood when she got a brand new heart.
Allen explained that despite doctors’ concerns of permanent neurological complications from the entire ordeal and the risk of rejection, “she’s doing awesome,” Allen said.
Howard, the man who once worked diligently to stabilize Katlynn, got the privilege to drive the second-grader as she sat in the front seat of the deputy’s cruiser.
On Wednesday, children hushed one another to hear sirens in the distance — one pointed in awe at the approaching lights of the fire trucks through bare trees.
Katlynn approached the school waving from the front seat as her classmates chanted her name.
One teacher wiped the tears streaming from her face, recalling that the last time she saw Katlynn she was underweight and clearly ill.
On Wednesday, Howard said he hardly recognized her compared to the young girl he helped resuscitate at recess.
“She got another chance at life,” Howard said.
Behind Howard and Katlynn were a host of sheriff vehicles, including Boyd County Sheriff Jamie Reihs. Engines from Westwood Fire Department brought up the rear.
Katlynn walked through the lines of children and Allen handed off her backpack and water bottle as any other caregiver would do — an ordinary action for a little girl who is anything but ordinary.