Alex Sheridan, 9, a third-grader at New Lenox's Haines Elementary School, is being called a hero for her quick response to her mom's medical condition.
Jennifer Sheridan, 42, was just leaving a Lockport High School basketball game, where she and Alex had watched a cousin's game, when she experienced a sudden drop in blood sugar. From there, a normal 13-minute ride home turned into a harrowing experience.
While Jennifer has been a diabetic since the age of 5, this is the first time that a drop in blood sugar put her and Alex in jeopardy. It was about 8 p.m. when the two were leaving in the family's Volkswagen Beetle. Then Jennifer lost all reference to her surroundings. "I was out of it." She was driving erratically and traveling at a rate of speed that got up to 70 mph at one point on secondary roads in the pitch black.
Alex said, "I was scared when she started going really fast."
The two ended up in a cornfield about seven miles from home on Laraway Road and Center Street in Frankfort. Alex said when the car ran off the road it slowed but it was still moving. She could see a billboard ahead and some trees, so she reached over and turned the ignition key off, bringing the vehicle to a stop. Miraculously, no one was injured.
Jennifer said someone must have reported the erratic driving, because Frankfort police and the paramedics were there almost immediately. "I know at one point I closed my eyes," blacked out.
How the car got over to Laraway Road remains a mystery to Jennifer. However, she remembers at one point regaining minimal cognizance. "I told Alex, 'We're lost.'"
Sitting at home, safe and sound in the family living room, Alex relayed the details of that Friday night. To her mother, she said, "You kept saying I have to pull over." But somehow, Jennifer said in her confusion, she couldn't manage it. She slowed to turn into a gas station but then pulled away from the entrance and continued eastbound on Laraway Road.
Meanwhile, Alex's dad, Rich, called his wife's cell phone. He was wondering where the two had gone. It was about 9 p.m. Alex answered and told him they were lost. Rich said he knew immediately that a drop in blood sugar had caused his wife to become confused. Alex didn't immediately sound afraid. "It was normal conversation." He was trying to figure out where they were. Alex told him there was a sign for Woody's Frankfort Auto Body. "That didn't make sense to me. They were coming from Lockport. I was going to go that way."
Moments later, the 40-year-old father would hear his daughter screaming. "We're getting into an accident," she said. "She was crying." Then there was silence for about a minute. "I was totally in a panic. I couldn't breathe. As the crash was happening, I don't know where they are. She was crying uncontrollably."
A member of New Lenox Brownie Troop #107 and basketball player on the youth group team from Orland Park's The Stone Church, Alex later shared details that she hadn't mentioned before. Looking at her mother's tear-filled eyes, she said, "When the car was going off the road. You held my hand. You said 'it's going to be okay; it's going to be okay.'"
When the car stopped, Alex knew where to reach for the candy bar that's always in the car. She fed her mother a few pieces.
At the scene of the accident, the police officer told Alex to put the car in park and pull the key out. While emergency personnel were getting the two out of the car, one of police officers grabbed the phone and clued Rich in on the situation. He told them they were all right.
As the car was going off the road, Alex said, "I was nervous. My whole body was shaking."
Because Alex recognized her mother's diabetic symptoms, she was able to sum up her medical situation for the paramedics, who would then take her to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Alex said one of paramedics described her as a hero and told her she was brave. Then he handed her a stuffed animal, a golden duck, and called it the "Golden Duck Award."
While on the phone with police, Rich said he asked how Alex was doing. The police officer said, "She's fine. She's sitting behind the wheel (of the squad car) playing with buttons." En route to the scene, Rich said, Alex sent him a text. "She took a picture of herself with the golden duck."
"I'm really proud of her," Rich said. "It's not the first time" she's come to her mother's aid. She knows the symptoms of low blood sugar. "She's gotten me up at night" to tell me that her mother needs help.
Two years ago, Jenifer said Alex took control of another bad diabetic situation and called 911 on her behalf. "I'm so proud of her. She is a hero."
After a visit to the doctor today, Jennifer said she expects to be on an insulin pump later this week. She's had them before, but there were complications. They've improved since then.
The whole weekend has been an experience, said Jennifer. There's so much emotion. "You think of the what ifs. Besides us, somebody else could have gotten killed. Then you're so thankful. I know God was looking out for us."
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