SIDNEY, Ohio – Lehman Catholic in Sidney is a small, close-knit high school of only about 200 students. They’re used to multi-tasking between classroom, clubs, athletics and volunteer events, including the Tuesday, Nov. 6 Community Blood Center (CBC) campus blood drive. They learned first-hand last year that every blood drop counts when they rallied to support critically injured classmate Connor Richard. At the time, it was beyond hope that the basketball team would get its point guard back.
But Connor is back. Not just back in school, out of his wheelchair, and volunteering at the blood drive. He’s back on the court, ready to play his senior season. At a time when motor vehicle tragedies across the Miami Valley have claimed so many young lives, Connor’s comeback is often called the Lehman miracle.
Connor was returning from a basketball game Feb. 12, 2012 and just a mile from home when his Jeep skidded on ice, flipped, and crushed into a utility pole. Connor’s body was shattered as well, with 25 broken bones, a ruptured spleen, punctured lung and three internal bleeds. He was already receiving blood transfusions when he was transported by CareFlight from Wilson Memorial Hospital in Sidney to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
“They put him in a coma,” recalled Connor’s dad John Richard. “He went to nothing – flat line. They had to cut him open to figure out where he was bleeding from.” His surgery took hours and Connor received 29 units of blood. He spent more than a week in intensive care. “We were just happy he was alive,” said John.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to walk,” Connor remembered and John agreed. “We had no idea he’d be able to run, let alone play basketball his senior year.”
Connor’s comeback started in a wheelchair. On March 7, a little more than three weeks after the accident, Connor was determined to visit the CBC blood drive at Lehman. He encouraged his classmates and watched his dad and older brother Devin both donate for the first time.
“We know that without blood, he would never have survived,” said John. Symbolically, John hoped the drive would produce at least 29 units to “replace” what Connor had used. Instead, more than 100 registered and donated 84 units for 133 percent of goal.
John donated again at the Tuesday, Nov. 6 drive. “Knowing other people’s blood saved my son,” he said, “I will always donate to help someone else.”
The blood drive proved to be an important milestone in Connor’s recovery. “It’s such a small, Catholic school,” said John. “There was a tremendous amount of support and prayers to help him.”
Lehman Catholic President and Sidney Mayor Michael Barhorst donated Tuesday, despite a late Monday night hammering out the new town budget. He lost his younger brother to a car accident, and as an educator has seen heart-wrenching tragedies involving his students. “It’s amazing to me that he was so badly injured and was able to come back from that,” he said. “It was really good to have this community behind him, that he had such a support group.”
That support came from administrators, coaches, classmates and teammates. Connor grew up playing basketball with neighbor and fellow guard Drew Westerheide, who made his first blood donation at the Tuesday drive. He was the first to visit Connor in the hospital.
“I got the text from his parents at 8 a.m. about the accident and I was on the road to Dayton by 8:30 on the way to the hospital,” he recalled. “It’s a miracle being able to see him play. It makes me appreciate everything more every day.”
That’s an often-repeated theme that John Richard says Connor has taken to heart. “The message has been how quick this could happen, how quick your life can change.”
Recovery was faster than expected but required hard work, and Connor used basketball as a motivator. After weeks of physical therapy at Wilson Memorial he transitioned to a sports enhancement program in Lima to regain speed, quickness and endurance. “I knew I could always do it,” Connor said. “But I didn’t feel I was back to where I was until mid-October.”
By the time basketball practice started Nov. 1 Connor believed he was in better form than before the accident. “It’s a miracle he’s recovered,” said senior center and blood donor Michael Jacob, who at 6-foot-5, towers over his friend. “We’re just so glad to have him back.”
Fellow athlete Quinton Malone donated for Connor last year and at the Nov. 6 drive. “I always thought it was a good thing to do, but never donated until Connor’s accident,” he said. “I always thought they stored the blood, but with Connor I realized they actually use it a lot.”
“I know a bunch of people that are donating because of what happened to me,” said Connor. “It’s been a good thing for everyone involved.” “He knows how fortunate he was to survive,” said John Richard. “He knows how important a blessing this was from everyone.”