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911 operator answers call from own family

While at work answering 911 calls, Deanna McKay learns her son has fatally hurt after being run over by a lawnmower. Rob Stafford reports.

“Clinton County Sheriff's office. This is Deanna…” 

Deanna McKay has uttered those words countless times on the job—but she would never have imagined who’d be on the other end of the call one day in July 2004.  She’d headed off to do a double shift as a 911 operator near her home in Albany, Oregon in the early afternoon.

Husband Craig was in the garage, a carpenter by trade he was making cabinets for their home. The McKay’s two sons were playing outside.  Colton was 8, quiet and reserved, in love with the outdoors.  Younger brother Taylor had just turned 7. He was a non stop bundle of energy.

Deanna McKay: They’ll sit down together and play for hours. it was just a normal day.

It was a normal day, and for Deanna, a busy one.  By mid-afternoon she was already swamped with emergencies.

Deanna McKay: I thought I was having the worst day I  could possibly  have already. I had an armed robbery in progress at the time.I had all my deputies running.  I had people in the building with weapons.

Deanna’s day was about to get a whole lot worse.  It began with a child’s phone call into 911 — a plea for help that was answered by the only other operator in the room that day.

911 tapeOperator: 911.  What’s your emergency?Boy: My brother just got hit really bad.

Her colleague immediately told Deanna she had to take this one. It was her older son Colton. By the time she took the call, Deanna’s distraught husband Craig was on the other end.

Deanna: This is Deanna.Craig: Deanna, this is Craig.Deanna: What’s wrong?Craig:  I need an ambulance.

It was Taylor, he told her—her younger son.  He’d been hurt badly.

Deanna McKay: I don’t know how to describe it.  It’s a feeling that you never want to have.  Deanna:  What’s going on, Craig?Craig: Taylor got run over by the lawnmower.Deanna: Well, how is he?Craig: Just call an ambulance.Deanna: I am calling an ambulance, Craig.

During those critical first moments, Deanna had to push back her mother’s anguish—and just do the job. With Craig on one line, she called for an ambulance on another. 

Operator: Sweet Home Emergency Dispatch.Deanna: I need an ambulance at Pleasant Valley Road

Then she got back to her husband— pressing him for specifics about Taylor to tell the approaching medics.

Deanna:  Is he conscious? Craig: Yes.Deanna: Is he breathing?Craig:  Yes.Deanna: OK.  Is he bleeding?Craig: (unintelligible)Deanna: Tell us where he’s bleeding from.Craig: He- his sides are hanging out.Deanna: His sides-my God!

The McKay boys had been begging their dad to let them ride the family’s new tractor to mow the lawn. That day, for the very first time,  after Deanna had gone to work, Craig had finally said yes to older son Colton.

Craig McKay: Colton was getting to the age where I felt he he could mow the lawn.

Taylor wanted to be part of the action, too—so his dad allowed him to ride behind in a small trailer that was pulled by the tractor. The McKay boys were doing just fine until the weather changed.

Craig McKay: Colton was on a hill.  And it had just started raining a little bit, so the grass was slick, and the mower couldn’t go up the hill, it spun out.  So when he pushed in the clutch, the mower rolled backwards down the hill real fast, and the trailer jack knifed, throwing Taylor out.

As the stunned little boy lay on the grass, the nearly 500 pound mower rolled over him and the still spinning steel blades cut across the middle of his body. Incredibly, Colton managed to push the tractor off of his brother, but Taylor had already suffered horrific injuries.

Colton then raced to the garage to alert his father.

Edie Magnus, Dateline correspondent: Can you describe for me what you saw when you reached your son?Craig McKay: Something completely unimaginable.  His insides were laying beside him. My first thoughts were, “I’m losing my son, because I knew he was gonna die.”

And now he was calling his wife for life saving help.

Craig: Get an ambulance hereDeanna: They’re gettin’ it, Craig.  Hold on... Um...Craig: He’s turning white.Magnus:  Did you want to jump out of the chair?Deanna McKay: Yes yes, I wanted to leave.  But I knew I couldn’t.Magnus: Why not?Mckay: There were only two of us there at that time, and we have a mandatory minimum of two.  There’s no way I could have walked away.

No way—especially on this busy day.  Remember, there were other emergencies in progress and more coming in that needed her attention—in fact, several times this mother suddenly faced with losing her own son had to make her husband wait while she fielded other calls.

Craig: The doctor’s coming.  Deanna: Oh my God!  Craig, I have to put you on hold.

When Oregon EMT Kenny weld arrived on the scene, few things in his 14-year career prepared him for what he saw.

Kenny Weld, Oregon EMT: The initial dispatch was that there was a young child that was in a lawnmower accident. He was pasty white - I wasn’t even sure he was alive.

Wald knew instantly Taylor’s extensive injuries would require treatment at a major medical center nearly 70 miles away—so he called for a helicopter to meet them at the local hospital.Deanna meanwhile had finally gotten someone to relieve her at the 911 center.

Deanna McKay: I stood up and I just crumbled.  It was like, this rush of emotion and, “Oh my god, this is my son.”

By the time the McKays reached Taylor by car, their critically injured son was already in surgery. For more than six hours, doctors worked to stabilize him and put back and repair his organs as best they could.

With his younger brother’s life hanging in the balance, Colton was beside himself.

Colton McKay: I didn’t want my brother to like, to die or anything because I like him and stuff.Magnus: Did you tell him that?Colton McKay: Yeah.

14 months, and 14 surgeries later, Colton’s prayer was answered: His little brother Taylor is back home — as cute as a button and as energetic as a sprite — despite having lost portions of his internal organs and a great deal of muscle mass.

Magnus: You’ve had to be pretty brave, haven’t you?Taylor McKay:  (Shakes head yes.)Magnus: What’s the worst part about all those surgeries?Taylor McKay: Having to wait. It takes about a week or so for you to get healed—sometimes even a month.

Taylor’s had muscle transplants and skin grafts and there are more operations to come. He has no feeling in his left foot and ankle, so he’s had to learn how to walk again.  He has a lifetime of physical challenges.  Now a 9-year-old, his indominable spirit is getting him through it all.

Magnus: What is something you want to learn how to do again that you haven’t been able to do?Taylor McKay: There’s nothing I can’t do.

That Taylor is as healthy as he is a testament to modern medicine. The fact that he’s here at all is due, in good measure, to an unflappable 911 operator who just happened to be Taylor’s very scared mother.

Deanna McKay: I still have my boy. I don’t want anybody to ever be hurt again.  I couldn’t make it through another.

Taylor McKay had to miss much of the second and third grades because of all the surgeries, but he’s back in school now and catching up quickly. His mom, Deanna, is still on the job as a 911 operator.