‘God’s glory ascended on that mountain’

Published 11:05 am Monday, December 25, 2023

Every year after Thanksgiving, Jeanie Baird and her twin 8-year-old grandchildren, Ethan and Annabelle Chrisman, make the 200-mile drive from their home in Carrollton to meet up with Baird’s son, Jarred, his wife, Jen, and Ethan’s and Annabelle’s cousins, Grayson and Connor, at the Snickers Gap Christmas tree farm at the base of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in Loudoun County.

The annual holiday outing that began four years ago has become a family tradition, one they never expected would turn life-threatening this year. Jarred had been helping Baird load a freshly cut blue spruce tree into her truck on Nov. 24 when she received a frantic phone call from Jen just after 5 p.m.

Ethan had been hurt while playing further up the mountain, Jen told Baird.

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“We knew it was very bad the way she sounded,” Baird said. “My son took off running up the hill.”

When Baird called back, Jen told her that Ethan had been playing beneath a boulder that had slipped and fallen on him. Baird shouted for help to passers-by, several of whom joined her in running toward the scene.

When she arrived, she found Ethan pinned beneath a rock the size of her dining room table. His entire body was covered, she said.

As the seconds ticked away, Baird lost track of time but estimates from her phone records that Ethan remained pinned beneath the weight for roughly 10 minutes. Baird characterizes what happened next as “one miracle after another.”

Nine men who had followed her to the scene were able to lift the boulder. Others began praying aloud.

By the time they’d pulled Ethan out he was unresponsive. The force of the impact had likely stopped his heart, first responders told the family.

But as fate would have it, a nurse, emergency medical technician and retired police officer trained in CPR were also among the bystanders on the mountain that evening, and were able to resuscitate him.

“God’s glory ascended on that mountain,” Baird said in a Dec. 4 Facebook update on Ethan’s condition. “There was a nurse counting his breaths and a man that did mouth to mouth we would love to meet.”

By 6 p.m. that evening, a helicopter had flown Ethan to Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Annandale.

“We’re getting names gradually,” said Baird, who’s now reaching out on Facebook and through word of mouth to try to find and thank each bystander on the mountain that day.

“We’ve even heard from the nurse who was on the helicopter,” she said.

At Inova, doctors discovered Ethan’s left lung had collapsed and fitted him with breathing and feeding tubes. They also attached an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to Ethan’s head to watch for brain waves but warned the family of a possibly months-long road to recovery.

“He didn’t respond for the first day and a half, didn’t move, didn’t talk, didn’t do anything,” Baird said.

Then, one day, he started kicking his feet. Another day, he opened his eyes. Then, he tried to pull his breathing tube out and started talking.

On Dec. 1, seven days after the accident, Ethan was discharged at 6 p.m., the exact time he’d arrived by helicopter a week earlier. According to Baird, doctors have described his rapid recovery as “beyond resilience.”

“He has a couple little fractures in his back,” Baird said.

Prior to leaving the hospital, Ethan’s family made contact with the person who had administered chest compressions to Ethan on the mountain.

Ethan will need to wear a back brace and orthopedic boot for four to six weeks, Baird said. But other than that, Ethan’s life has largely returned to normal.

“He’s playing board games and putting together lego toys,” Baird said.

Since returning home, Ethan and Baird have received an outpouring of support from local churches and even from international missionaries in Canada, Switzerland, Kenya and Nigeria.

“I have had so many responses,” Baird said.