Jessica’s story: A life nearly taken, a family forever changed — (Independent Mail)

Original article no longer available

Independent Mail

By Salley McInerney Special to the Anderson Independent-Mail

March 26, 2006

I bring this story to you today because it’s something every parent should read. It’s long and it’s graphic and it is, I believe, a reflection of the complicated, unpredictable society our children live in today. I am grateful to 15-year-old Jessica Ray’s mother, Ramona Floyd, for her candid, forthright telling of this tale of her daughter’s recent attempt to take her life.

The day dawned cold and rainy in the gray countryside of Hart County, Ga. Jessica, who spends weekends with her paternal father, Anthony Ray, called her mother, Ramona Floyd, that morning.

“Jessica said she wanted to come home,” Mrs. Floyd said. “Her dad brought her home and I said to Jessica, ‘We’re going to Dairy Queen to get something to eat.’ Jessica said she wasn’t hungry. So, we went and ate and I brought her a chicken sandwich.”

By that afternoon, the weather had not improved. Jessica was in her bedroom. Her little brother, first-grader Cameron, was watching TV. Mrs. Floyd, 37, a nurse, went in Jessica’s room to give her the chicken sandwich.

“Jessica had been on the phone with her ex,” Mrs. Floyd said. “Her and her little boyfriend had broken up on Valentine’s Day. When I went in Jessica’s room, she told me to leave, that she was on the phone. You could tell she was upset. She slammed her door. That was all about 3 p.m. I went and lay down on the couch. I fell asleep.

“At about 3:45 p.m., Cameron came running in the living room and told me, ‘Sister is hanging in the closet.’ He was scared, but I don’t think he understood what was going on. I didn’t know what to think. Then I thought, ‘Oh, this is a joke. They (the two children) got me good this time.”

It was not a joke.

Jessica, a beautiful young teenager with long, dark hair and wide, brown eyes, hung lifeless inside her closet, a 2-inch-wide belt buckled around her neck.

“Her arms were hanging by her side,” Mrs. Floyd said, her voice steady. “Her back was to me. Her head was hanging to the right. Her hair was down. Her knees were buckled; her feet were touching the floor. Her skateboard shoes were still on. She was wearing a pair of American Eagle jeans and a blue American Eagle shirt.

“The belt she wore everyday to school was around her neck. I touched her. I tried to pick her up, but she was dead weight. It took me two or three tries to get her down. Her eyes were open and she was just staring. Her lips were just a little gray looking. She was not breathing. I felt for a pulse, but there wasn’t one.

“I started hollering, ‘Jessica! Jessica!’ I told Cameron, ‘Gimme Jessica’s phone.’ I called 911 and told them my daughter had hung herself. I started CPR. I did maybe three rounds. Cameron told me there was a man outside in his truck. He was a First Responder. He’d heard it on the scanner. I told Cameron to let him in. He came in and started chest compressions on Jessica. I did mouth-to-mouth.

“Then he found a little bit of pulse. Whether it was me or him, her heart was started. I know the man had on camouflage clothes, but I still don’t know who he was. I was hysterical. The whole time I was doing chest compressions on Jessica, I was telling her, ‘I will not bury you. I will not bury you.'”

Jessica was initially transported to Hart County Hospital. She was stabilized and then airlifted to Greenville Hospital System.

Mrs. Floyd and her husband, Dennis, were not allowed to ride in the helicopter, so they drove to the Upstate city, an hour away from their home in Hartwell.

“I prayed and I rocked,” Mrs. Floyd said. “The car’s flashers were on and I looked over (at the speedometer) and we were going 100 miles per hour.”

Once at the hospital, Mrs. Floyd learned that Jessica had most likely hung inside her closet for at least half an hour. Her air supply was probably cut off for that same period of time. She was unconscious. Her neck, however, was not broken and her spine was not injured.

“The belt she used was wide enough to support her neck,” Mrs. Floyd said.

Jessica was on life support and the doctors could not tell Mrs. Floyd when her daughter might regain consciousness. A huge concern was brain swelling.

“I prayed to God,” Mrs. Floyd said. “If you want her, I prayed, take her. If you want me to take care of her, give me the strength to help her get better.”

“Jessica’s brain started swelling,” Mrs. Floyd said, “and her blood pressure began to drop. They (the doctors) didn’t give me any hope. It was either on the third or fourth day that they did an MRI. It showed that the center of her brain was black. But Jessica was not brain dead. She had some brain activity. Eight days later, Jessica started breathing on her own. Then one day her eyes started fluttering, and the next thing you know, Jessica opened her eyes. We were so excited, you’d have thought we’d just won the lottery.”

Sunday was a prettier day than weather forecasters had predicted. The sun’s rays bounced off a silvery balloon in Room 3915 of the Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital at Greenville Hospital System. Jessica’s hair was freshly washed and pulled into three thick braids that fell over her left shoulder. She was sitting in her wheelchair, marked, “Solara #43.” She wore a white shirt, gray sweat pants and Reebok tennis shoes trimmed in pink.

Wrapped around each of Jessica’s hands were white washcloths, to protect her palms from finger pressure, brought on by a condition called “storming.” When Jessica is agitated, her muscles contract. Her slim arms draw in toward her chest and her hands will grip against the washcloths.

Mrs. Floyd sat next to Jessica, occasionally wiping her daughter’s brow. Jessica’s face was warm and sweating from the exertion that storming causes.

“You want to tell your story, don’t you?” Mrs. Floyd said to Jessica.

Jessica stared at her mother, but the 15-year-old could not speak. So Mrs. Floyd did.

“Jessica had been having trouble for several weeks. She moped around and stayed in her room. She didn’t want to have much to do with us. I thought she had a virus. She’d had nausea.”

Jessica saw a doctor several times and it appeared that her gallbladder was giving her trouble. Jessica was also started on the anti-depressant Prozac.

“I suffer from depression,” Mrs. Floyd said, “and depression is in the family, so I thought maybe Jessica was depressed.”

Jessica had recently broken up with her boyfriend.

“It was a mutual thing,” Mrs. Floyd said. “She was hurt by that, and the boy blames himself, but I told him, ‘Do not blame yourself. People break up everyday.’ I don’t know if I will ever know the answer to why Jessica did this. I hope one day she will be able to tell us. I don’t know if she felt all alone. I don’t know, I just don’t know.

“Was it the choking game that went wrong? There were no drugs, no alcohol, no letters. We went through everything. Her e-
mails. Everything. Jessica had a lot of friends – she has 60 or 70 names programmed into her cell phone. She made As and Bs in school. She was a sophomore at Hart County High School. She took college prep courses. She wanted to be a pharmacist.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better child. She liked to ride dirt bikes and she loved to skateboard. She loved to listen to old rock ‘n’ roll, like the Rolling Stones.”

Mrs. Floyd wiped Jessica’s brow again.

“A year ago, if you had told me this would have happened, I would have laughed at you. It bothers me, knowing that I was in the next room and all she had to say was, ‘Mama ….’ There were no threats. No, ‘I hate myself’ or ‘I hate my life.’

“I just think there is so much pressure on children these days. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Groups. Gothic. Where do you fit it, you know? I don’t know the answer to ‘Why?’ Someday, I pray, Jessica will be able to tell us.”

But that is someday. Today, like so many days ahead of her, Jessica must be cared for like a baby.

“It’s like a newborn, really,” Mrs. Floyd said. “In the morning, we bathe Jessica. We have physical therapy. We work her legs and arms. Every three hours, Jessica gets fed – through a tube inserted in her stomach. I change her when she is wet. We try to keep her up in the wheelchair for a certain period of time. If she is in bed, we turn her over every two hours to keep her from getting bedsores.”

Mrs. Floyd is on leave from her job as a nurse at Cobb Memorial Hospital in Royston, Ga. She spends every day with Jessica; Jessica’s father, who is self-employed, spends every night with her.

Jessica is covered by health insurance through Mr. Floyd’s job at a manufacturing company in Elberton. Still, bringing Jessica home – which Mrs. Floyd hopes can be done in a few weeks – will be expensive.

“I have paid March’s bills, but we are going to have to get a hospital bed for Jessica. Then there will be her diapers and her food. We’ll need a lift, and the bathroom will have to be torn out because Jessica will need a stand-up shower. We’ll also need a ramp for her wheelchair.”

A fund to help with Jessica’s expenses has been set up at Northeast Georgia Bank – (706) 376-3931 – in Hartwell.

“The doctors tell us right up front, they don’t know (what Jessica’s long-term prognosis is),” Mrs. Floyd said.

Jessica, tired, had fallen asleep in her wheelchair. Mrs. Floyd rubbed her daughter’s forearm.

“I can honestly say I looked death in the eye that day, so, to have Jessica here now…”

Mrs. Floyd hesitated, composing herself.

“Well, to have her here now, oh God, it’s a miracle. When my heart feels heavy, I pray. We are not mourning Jessica. Jessica is alive.”

The day was cold and dreary, not the kind of day one thinks of as the first day of spring. Jessica was visited in the hospital by a schoolteacher and Eulin Gibbs, principal of Hart County Middle School, where Jessica had once been a student. Mr. Gibbs said hello to Jessica and although Jessica’s eyes were open, she did not respond. Mr. Gibbs moved closer to Jessica’s face and Mrs. Floyd told her daughter to “blink” hello if she could not “say” hello.

Jessica deliberately blinked.

Then Mr. Gibbs asked Jessica if she knew his son, Winston.

Jessica blinked again.