He loved watching classics like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” and has watched “The Walking Dead” so many times he’s lost count. For Halloween, he dressed up as a zombie and put a life size Freddy Krueger on his front porch, complete with a motion sensitive robotic claw. He’s always wanted to tour the haunted houses in the Warehouse district, which he refers to as “real haunted houses,” like the ones in the movies he used to watch – before the breathing problems worsened. Since then, things have changed.
Ewing can’t watch scary movies anymore, or ride the roller coasters at Worlds of Fun – something he’s always wanted to do. He can’t play his favorite video game either. Ewing can’t walk the length of his street now without bending over in pain from loss of breath. After March 12 though, things will change. Ewing will undergo major surgery on his left side to fix a birth defect he has had his whole life, but has only known about for seven months.
Since he was two, Ewing had been misdiagnosed with severe asthma. His life consisted of doctors’ visits and waiting rooms to treat his asthma. At three-years-old, Ewing spent two weeks hooked up to a breathing machine to live. Ewing’s mother, Connie Wyrick, believed what her son had was asthma until the summer when he developed persistent coughing fits that would keep him up until 1:00 AM. She finally took Ewing Kansas City Asthma and Allergy Clinic to see a specialist in September.
“He stuck this tube up my nose that had this little camera on it and the first thing he said was ‘I have no idea what I’m looking at,” Ewing said.
The birth defect is known as a vascular ring, a tight rubber-band-like loop surrounding Ewing’s trachea and esophagus that develops as an extra artery when the aorta intertwines with the trachea. This causes blood to rush through the arteries, squeezing Ewing’s trachea and esophagus.
“Basically in the case of a vascular ring, the aorta is wrapped around and intertwined with the patient’s trachea, cutting off the ability to breathe,” asthma and allergy specialist Dr. Jeoffery Wald at Kansas City Asthma and Allergy clinic said. “It is extremely rare that patients are diagnosed with this type of birth defect later on in life. Almost always is the condition detected at birth in the mother’s womb.”
The birth defect effects his everyday life. When Ewing runs errands to Hy-Vee with his mom, Connie Wyrick, he makes his way to the register to buy a Coke, then waits in the back of the cafe’ area until he sees her push the shopping cart over to him. If Ewing walks the entirety of the store, a seething pain will develop in his chest and he won’t be able to catch his breath. The pain is the blood rushing around his trachea and esophagus through the vascular ring.
“The feeling is like when people run a mile really fast and you try to catch your breath when you’re done,” Ewing said. “Except, I can never catch my breath.”
After further tests and a CAT scan, the specialist sat Wyrick and Ewing down to tell them the asthma they had been treating for 15 years was, in fact, a serious birth defect.
“I wanted to strangle every doctor who told us it was just asthma,” Wyrick said. “It would have been easier to fix this when he was two or three.”
According to Dr. Gary Ripple, pulmonary expert at St. Luke’s Hospital, the diagnosis of a vascular ring is never easy to detect.
“It is a very uncommon condition to start with so doctors don’t necessarily expect symptoms to be a vascular ring,” Ripple said. “It really depends on the patient and how easy it is to detect early on.”
The breathing complications in turn, can appear to be asthma if further tests are not preformed. To permanently fix the vascular ring, Surgeons will split open Ewing’s ribs on his left side to successfully get to his trachea and tie off the ring so blood cannot pass through, a surgery that is rare and extremely risky, especially since Ewing is at an age in which the procedure is almost never performed.
Ewing isn’t worried about the dangers of the surgery or the excruciating pain that will ensue during recovery though, he’s excited for the future.
“It was either have the surgery, or live like this for the rest of my life,” Ewing said. “I don’t want to live this way anymore, so it’s worth it.”
Wyrick hopes that the surgery will allow Ewing to enjoy the things he’s missed.
“I know it was hard for him, seeing everybody doing normal kid stuff and he would just have to watch them,” Wyrick said. “I told him you don’t stop, you do whatever you can with what you got and you never totally give up.”
Ewing has been given a chance on March 12, not a second chance, but his first chance, his final chance to live close to a normal life.
He can’t help but smile when he talks about the surgery, like he will transform into a completely new person, because he will finally be able to breathe in and exhale like a normal teenager and not feel a agonizing pain in his chest. Post-surgery recovery will require at least a week in the cardiovascular care unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Ewing is uncertain when he will be able to return to school, or if he will graduate for that matter. But Ewing is willing to put off school for now. He already knows the first thing he will do once he can breathe again.
“I want to ride every roller coaster at World’s of Fun,” Ewing said. “Especially the Mamba.”
Their house is nestled on the corner of El Monte street in Fairway, KS. It’s quaint with six cars parked in the driveway and on the street. Its shingles show a worn yellow paint under the dimly lit porch light. This is the same street Wyrick would take Ewing on long walks every other day in the summer before his breathing problems peaked. They would sometimes just weave around to Delmar, but on special days where the weather wasn’t too hot, Wyrick would take Ewing to Baskin-Robbin’s where she would buy him Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and they would walk home, talking the entire way.
“After the surgery and recovery, I really want to be able to walk with my mom in the summer again,” Ewing said. “I don’t want to sit at home anymore while she walks alone. I will finally be able to live my life.”