Lillie Baughman has a heart of gold.
Just ask anyone who knows the 13-year-old Indianola Academy student.
Her friends and teachers call her Lillie B., but these days, they’re also calling her a walking miracle.
That heart of gold, which is full of love and life, stopped beating for several minutes back on June 17, just as IA’s dance practice was beginning to wrap up.
“The last thing I remember is dancing,” Lillie told The E-T in an interview this week.
Her memory of that day may be fragmented, but the experience is forever etched into the minds of her friends, teachers and the first responders who brought her back to life.
Lillie is alive to tell her story today because of the quick thinking of those around her and also for what many involved can only explain as God’s providence.
“God definitely had his hand on this situation for sure, placing everybody exactly where they needed to be,” said Tomilynn Baughman, Lillie’s mother.
It all began during the final dance number. The squad, under the direction of dance sponsor Jessica Holland, was going through a routine one last time as parents lined up in the IA parking lot to pick up their girls.
Something didn’t feel right, and she left the group to find a chair to sit down.
“In the middle of the dance, Lillie stopped dancing, and she went and sat down, and I thought that was odd for her,” said Holland. “I walked over to her, and as soon as I saw her face, I could tell she was starting to pass out.”
Holland said she helped Lillie to the floor to protect her from hitting her head, and she immediately knew she needed to call 911.
“Lillie was definitely not responsive,” Holland said. “It didn’t seem like she was totally unconscious, because she kind of had her eyes open, but she was kind of gasping for air, and she was losing a lot of color.”
One of Lillie’s friends and dance partners, Addison Rambo knew that her mother (Ashley Rambo), who is a registered nurse, was out in the parking lot waiting for her. She quickly ran and got her.
Just a couple of buildings over, IA girls soccer coach and first responder Alex Deason just happened to be visiting with Headmaster Charlie Mason in his office when the 911 dispatcher sent out the tone for the emergency.
“Alex has probably been in my office three times in a year,” Mason said. “He just happened to be there. I had asked him to come by and pick up his coach of the year plaque.”
Deason let the dispatcher know that he was on the scene, and he quickly grabbed his gear, which includes a defibrillator.
“I was about to walk out the door to my truck, and my tone went off in mid-conversation,” Deason said.
Deason soon joined Rambo, and the two calmly began performing CPR.
Jake Abney, who is also a nurse and a first responder was right around the corner at his mom’s house when he heard the emergency call. He was at the scene within minutes and began assisting until the ambulance arrived.
Meanwhile, Rambo had called Lillie’s mom, who was still at home when the incident started.
Tomilynn called her husband, Pete, who was working in Marks at the time this happened. He raced to get back to Indianola as fast as possible.
When she arrived at IA, she said she walked into a terrifying scene, as Abney was performing chest compressions on her daughter.
“I just kept hearing them say, ‘I can’t get a heartbeat,’” she said. “I just screamed so loud. They could hear me across the school.”
Tomilynn said that cheerleading sponsors Leigh Hargett and Sarah Nan Donahoe came in from the gym, where cheerleading camp was being held, and they immediately started praying with her.
She also got tremendous support from her friend, Beth Macleod, who was on the scene.
After what seemed like an eternity, Lillie’s heartbeat returned.
“When they told me she got a heartbeat, I was just afraid to go in there,” she said. “I just kept thinking, now that she does, is it going to be Lillie? Is there any brain damage? That was a long time for her to be out.”
Val Townsend, another dance mom on the scene went in to check on Lillie. It was actually her friend and dance partner Mollie Townsend, Lillie said, who quickly provided the phone that was used to call 911.
“She (Val) said do you want me to go look?” Tomilynn said. “She came back and said, she looks just like Lillie B.”
Tomilynn rode in the ambulance with her daughter to Belzoni, where Lillie was strapped into a helicopter and flown to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.
Macleod had driven the Baughman’s car behind the ambulance, and she drove her friend back to Indianola to meet her husband. They packed a few things into a bag, and they raced to Jackson to be with Lillie.
This was not the first time Lillie passed out.
Last October, she was at dance practice when a similar but not as intense situation unfolded.
Lillie had fallen off a hammock a few days before and hit her head.
“We just assumed that it was related to her hitting her head,” her mother said.
She was taken to South Sunflower County Hospital at the time where she received a CAT scan, along with other tests, and a hairline fracture was discovered.
Further tests were done at Batson, but everything looked normal at the time.
“We just kind of forgot about it,” Tommlyn said.
When she got the call on June 17, Tomilynn thought her daughter may have had a seizure related to the October incident.
“I’m never thinking that I’m going to be walking into her with no heartbeat,” she said. “Nobody prepared me for that, but I don’t think anybody was prepared for that either.”
After arriving at Batson in June, the doctors ran all the routine tests.
“Then when they did the EKG, that’s when it showed the long QTs,” Tomilynn said.
Lillie’s doctors quickly diagnosed her with Prolonged QT Syndrome, a rare heart disorder that is often genetic, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The following Monday, Lillie had surgery to place a defibrillator near her heart. She was home the next day.
Doctors say she does not need a pacemaker at this time, but she is on beta blockers, a medication that is commonly used to help lower a person’s blood pressure.
She also has a monitor at home now that allows her defibrillator to communicate with her doctors in case something ever goes wrong.
Lillie, who played basketball along with dance said that her days of shooting competitive hoops are done, according to doctors, but she’s holding out hope that one day she may return to the dance team.
But for now, she’s happy to be alive, and she’s ready to get back to school this fall.
“God Had It”
Lillie is alive with seemingly no complications from being without a pulse for several minutes.
She didn’t even suffer any broken ribs from the chest compressions that were performed by the first responders.
Deason said the key to Lillie’s survival and health began with the quick thinking of her dance instructor, Jessica Holland, who knew to call 911 immediately.
“That’s what made all the difference in the world,” Deason said. “You’ve got to have that early notification.”
IA’s headmaster said that all of his staff are trained in CPR, but he was in awe of how calmly and how professionally the team worked in saving Lillie’s life.
“I was most proud of my folks,” Mason said. “The three folks we needed the most were all there within a few minutes… I was very proud my folks stayed so calm and took care of business and we were very fortunate we had those folks close.”
The rest of the pieces, which the American Heart Association refers to as the “chain of survival,” fell into place in the seconds that followed the 911 call, with Deason and Rambo being on the scene already.
“It was textbook,” Deason said. “Any delay in those, and you start going backwards.”
Rapid defibrillation is one of the links in that chain of survival.
Deason and most of Sunflower County’s first responders have defibrillators as part of their gear.
The county purchased two, The E-T was told, and North Sunflower Medical Foundation made a generous contribution to the first responders to purchase the rest to make sure that all have the equipment handy.
Without it, Lillie’s situation could have turned out much differently.
Tomilynn said the EMTs also need to be commended. One, who was a father, prayed for Lillie en route to Belzoni, she said.
The life-changing experience has strengthened the faith of both Lillie and those around her.
“I’m just thankful God had it,” Lillie said.
She thanks God every day for being alive, but she also thanks the ones He used in bringing her back from the brink.
“I would say that there’s no way I can thank them enough,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
This week, Lillie and her grandmother, Rosemary Miller, began a project where they are painting rocks, and they plan to hide them in strategic areas around the city of Indianola. The message is to spread love throughout the community.
That’s Lillie B.
That’s a heart of gold.