Sgt. 1st Class Tiffany Alligood is the readiness noncommissioned officer and a combat medic with the Kansas Army National Guard's 1077th Ground Ambulance Company at the Lenexa armory. As a combat medic, she has seen her share of emergency situations during deployments, assisted in motor vehicle accidents, and treated minor injuries in the community. However, on Feb. 8, she faced a situation much closer to home.
"I was walking back to my office from the supply room," said Alligood. "When I entered the foyer, I noticed that a mother was taking her child out of his wheelchair and placing him on the ground."
Nine-year-old Kayden Griffith attended a STARBASE academy at the armory with his fifth-grade classmates from Rosehill Elementary in Lenexa. Alligood said the mother, Angie Griffith, appeared very calm, so Alligood didn't think anything of it at first.
That calm came partly because this was not a new situation for Kayden. Griffith explained that Kayden was diagnosed with a genetic condition called spinal muscular atrophy Type 1 when he was six weeks old.
"SMA is a progressive condition where he cannot sit up, hold his head and move independently," said Griffith. "It robs him of any strength in breathing. He lost his swallow when he was three months old, so part of all the equipment we carry is there in case something like last week happens, where he starts choking since he cannot cough or swallow.
“I guess you could say I have nine years of training. Every day we do respiratory treatments with him just to keep his airway clear since he can’t cough on his own to keep his lungs expanded and healthy. That alone keeps you knowing what you need to do but in the back of your mind. You know what the steps are that need to be done in that situation.”
The situation on Feb. 8 began as STARBASE was finishing the last class of the day and Griffith saw Kayden was having trouble breathing due to a buildup of secretions.
“It was getting to where he was needing suction, so I backed him out of the room,” said Griffith. “When we got him out, I could tell by looking at him, his color, and the panic in his eyes, also looking at his pulse oximeter he always has on that his oxygen was dropping. His nurse and I knew we needed to get him out of his chair and get him to the floor because suctioning him wasn’t enough.”
Griffith and the nurse began to prepare the cough assist machine that is part of the equipment they always carry wherever Kayden goes. That is when Alligood came back to them.
“As soon as I walked into my office, I had a gut feeling telling me to go check on them,” said Alligood. “I walked over to the mom and noticed the child was not doing well and appeared to be having a medical emergency. When I saw that the child was blue in the face, my first reaction was to check for a pulse. Once I determined that he didn’t have a pulse, I immediately started CPR and asked for someone to call 911.”
“It was nice to have somebody who had medical training who could check pulse and do chest compressions instead of me having to do all of it,” said Griffith. “She was able to do those things while his nurse and I made sure we were getting his airway clear and air moving with his BiPAP ventilator mask and the cough assist. Having multiple hands made the process go a lot faster. I didn’t have to take the time to explain to people what needs to be done.”
While Alligood attended to the child, Staff Sgt. Nick Watkins assisted in positioning him to clear his airway and prepped him in case he needed to be defibrillated. Other Soldiers contacted 911, retrieved the automated external defibrillator, kept the other children away from the scene, and coordinated with school buses to arrange an alternate exit plan. After several minutes of CPR, Kayden had a pulse and was breathing on his own.
“Fortunately, all of the events that took place only lasted about 15 minutes,” said Alligood. “We were able to restore the heart for the child and keep him stable until fire department EMS arrived.”
“I’ve had a lot of friends ask right after how I was doing,” said Griffith. “I told them I was calm. I could feel that I was not panicking. I think it’s because I didn’t have to order people around and worry about all the other things. I could do what I needed to do knowing she knew what she was doing, and his nurse knew what she needed to do to help me, as well.
Alligood's actions did not go unnoticed by those in her chain of command.
“Sergeant First Class Alligood has always been an exceptional soldier, medic and NCO,” said Capt. Brandon Maxwell, assistant deputy state surgeon. “I am not surprised that she was able to assist during this event as she maintains situational awareness at all times and takes her job as a medic to heart.”
Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general, also recognized Alligood and the other Soldiers involved in the emergency response by presenting each with an Adjutant General coin.
Alligood has been in contact with the boy's family since the incident.
“He was released from the hospital the next day and is back home resting and doing well.”
At the time, Alligood did not know she was assisting someone who may one day be president of the United States.
“Kayden wrote her a thank you letter afterwards,” said Griffith. “He explained the mission he was put here for is to be president, to make this country a better place. He says, ‘The things for our future generations aren’t right in our country right now’ and he’s trying to find ways to correct that. Kayden said he can’t do that if he wasn’t here. He was thankful that she could help him.
“He’s always out there looking for people he’s going to add on to his Cabinet when he becomes president someday. He already offered that to her to be ready for a job opportunity when he becomes president.”