After near-death experience, New Kent student on road to recovery

Bus driver & school officer save life of 16-year-old New Kent High School student

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

10:02 AM EST, January 23, 2014


When 15-year-old Janna Apple asked her mother in the summer of 2013 to make sure Tansle Ferrell would be her bus driver again that year, she had no idea that choice would save her life.

"Janna and Mrs. Ferrell have a very special relationship and she is so well respected by all her students," said Janna's mother, Roberta Apple.

A six-year veteran bus driver with New Kent County, Ferrell has spent the last three years driving the route that included the Apple's home off Quaker Road in Quinton. Since starting the route, she struck up camaraderie with Janna Apple, now 16.

That bond would become even stronger after Janna Apple collapsed on her bus on the afternoon of Dec. 3.

"At 2:31 p.m., Janna was the third or fourth student to get on the bus," Ferrel said in an interview Sunday. "She went to her seat and put her book bag down. She always sits up front to tell me what has happened all day."

"She took a few steps toward the front of the bus and then ran up the aisle toward me and collapsed."

At first, Ferrell wasn't sure what had happened. She thought maybe Janna had tripped and fallen, and stayed on the floor because she was embarrassed.

"I called for help first and then I called for a medic when I realized it was more serious than just falling," Ferrell said.

School Resource Officer Corporal N. Heath Jenkins, who was monitoring traffic on Egypt Road (near the high school), heard Ferrell's first call reporting that a student had fallen on the bus.

Jenkins headed to the high school, not knowing which bus had the injured student. He quickly found bus number 46, and was there to help Ferrell within minutes.

"I didn't expect to see what I initially saw," Jenkins said.

When Jenkins and Ferrell moved Janna Apple on her side, they realized she wasn't breathing. They laid her on her back, pulled her to the front of the stairwell, where there was more room, and after an initial assessment, started administering CPR.

Within less than a minute of Ferrell's call, New Kent Schools Transportation Director Stephen King was on scene, redirecting traffic and getting an extra bus to pick up Ferrell's other students.

Emergency personnel, including the New Kent Sheriff's Office, Virginia State Police, and New Kent Fire & Rescue also rushed to the scene and worked with Jenkins and Ferrell.

Jenkins and Lt. Joey McLaughlin, III carried the student off of the bus and administered the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) system to her heart.

Jenkins and Ferrell did not stop decompressions on Janna Apple's chest until the medical team was ready to take her in a helicopter to VCU Medical Center.

Sometime during the afternoon, Roberta Apple got a call that her daughter wasn't breathing.

Roberta, a nurse at the Veteran's Hospital, was concerned but not sure if her daughter had tripped and gotten winded or if it was something more serious.

When she was told that Janna Apple was headed to VCU, she knew that something was terribly wrong. Roberta Apple headed to the school and beat the flight crew.

Although watching the helicopter transport her daughter was terrifying for Roberta Apple, Jenkins said that he knew that there was hope of saving Janna Apple's life.

"If they bring a helicopter in and don't call it off, there is hope. We had hope," he said.

Janna Apple was rushed to VCU Medical Center, where she was intubated and cooled.

"They did an aortic protocol where they freeze you, so your body temperature will drop, and rewarm you," said Roberta Apple.

"Everyone in the hospital, including the critical care nurses and the whole medical team, was amazing."

Eight days after she was admitted to the hospital, Janna Apple left MCV with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in her chest, a smile on her face, and a new outlook on life.

"She recently posted something on Facebook that said something like, 'I have seen the face of God and I'm not afraid. He's not done with me'," said Roberta Apple. "Janna's an amazing person and she wants to tell everyone her story."

Janna Apple's near-death experience has made her appreciate her life.

"It brought me closer to my faith, knowing that those people were there for me, and through it all, I have gained a lot of great new friends," she said.

"It's a good ending to a bad situation."

The cardiologist diagnosed Janna Apple with myocarditis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.

Myocarditis, which can present various symptoms, has been attributed to five to 20 percent of all cases of sudden death in young adults.

Janna Apple had not been feeling bad, aside from a sinus infection she had two weeks before the incident. Her blood work at the time did not indicate anything was wrong.

"I'm feeling a lot better," said Janna Apple. "I'm back in school and back on the bus."

According to Ferrell, Janna Apple has "reclaimed her seat" on her bus and she couldn't be happier.

For her mother, witnessing the community's love and support has been overwhelming.

"Everyone has been a part of this and they have all reached out," Roberta Apple said. "It really has touched our lives."

From the very start, Ferrell and Jenkins have been pivotal in Janna Apple's recovery.

"Officer Jenkins came in the day after she was admitted into the hospital and I was so glad to see him, I gave him a big hug," Roberta Apple said.

Ferrell was also the first person that Janna Apple called when she was able to speak.

"It was unbelievable to hear her voice," said Ferrell, who also saved the first text she received from Roberta Apple following her daughter's recovery in the hospital. It read: "She says she's hungry and she wants to go home."

Jenkins, Ferrell, and King were recently recognized by the New Kent County School Board for their quick heroic actions that day.

"Without the quick thinking and action of these three people, [Janna Apple] would not be alive today. Period," said Dr. Robert "Rick" Richardson, Jr. in a phone interview.

The road to recovery has been long for Janna Apple, but her mother is sure that God is on their side and that her daughter will be fine.

"The hand of God put all the right people in right place at the right time," she said. "We are so blessed."

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.