ST. LOUIS - Tom Ryan stands at the corner of the mat and
shouts instructions. A small plastic picture holder dangles from his shirt
pocket. The baby blue eyes of his 5-year-old son, Teague, peer out from behind
the plastic casing. Ryan reaches for the pendant and clutches it repeatedly.
The heart-shaped memento gives the Hofstra wrestling coach strength. It
also is a reminder of how fragile life can be.
Ryan has coached for a little more than a month with a heavy heart. Despite
his willingness to fulfill his commitment and stand by his wrestlers through
the most critical time of the season, Ryan's pain never goes away.
Teague Ryan died Feb. 16 in his father's arms shortly after the family had
dinner in its Hauppauge home. Doctors believe that Long Q-T Syndrome, an
electrical malfunction of the heart, caused the boy to have difficulty
breathing before passing out, Ryan said. Teague died before emergency personnel
arrived at the home.
"The doctors are 99.9 percent sure that he died from Long Q-T Syndrome, a
genetic heart problem," Ryan said. "There's not going to be an official cause
of death for a few weeks as more tests are done on his tissue."
Rare hereditary disorder
Wendy Chung, a geneticist at Columbia University, is conducting more tests
to confirm what doctors already suspect. Long Q-T Syndrome (LQTS) is a rare
hereditary disorder of the heart's electrical rhythm that can occur in
otherwise healthy people. It usually affects children or young adults,
according to the American Heart Association.
"I knew he was in trouble when I held him and he was having trouble
breathing," Ryan said. "I never saw anything like it. I never saw someone die.
Once he fainted, he had very little chance of survival."
The little boy is never far from his dad's mind. "I think about Teague all
the time," Ryan said as tears filled his eyes. "Where is he? What was the
purpose of his death? Where will I find the strength to carry on for the rest
of our family? I never stop thinking about him."
Ryan guided Hofstra through the CAA Tournament and to the conference
championship. Hofstra qualified eight wrestlers into the NCAA Division I
Tournament at the Savvis Center this past weekend. Junior Chris Skretkowicz
rewarded Ryan's perseverance with an All-American place-finish. All of his
wrestlers gave him everything they had.
"The Hofstra wrestling program is a part of my family," Ryan said. "Teague
spent 4 1/2 of the last 5 1/2 hours of his life in the Hofstra wrestling room.
His death has taken a great toll on our program. The guys all loved him."
After each of Ralph Everett's three wins, he tapped his heart, where a logo
with the initials TR was emblazoned. Everett just missed All-American status
by one win.
"I felt terrible for the guys when they lost," Ryan said. "If they lost,
they apologized to me. The pressure on them was incredible and completely
unnecessary. They wanted to win for him."
But wins won't ease the pain. Perhaps time will somewhat.
"It's very hard," said Ryan's wife, Lynette, who was admitted to Stony
Brook University Hospital two weeks ago after suffering a panic attack. "I was
sitting outside and it really hit me that Teague was gone. And I lost it."
Lynette said her perspective on life has changed dramatically. Now she
wants Teague to help others. "He touched so many people and his life was
meaningful," she said. "We're going to get the word out about Long Q-T and save
lives so other parents won't lose a child the way we did. There is a strong
sense of purpose."
As a precautionary measure, Tom, Lynette and their children had
electrocardiogram (EKG) testing. Preliminary tests revealed that Lynette is a
carrier of the gene and found that 11-year-old Jordan, their oldest son, also
carries it. Son Jake (8) and daughter Mackenzie (3) are not carriers.
"Jordan has the gene and we're treating it with medication, beta-blockers,"
Ryan said. "I recommend that every parent and their children have an EKG done.
It's a fairly quick test. It takes two minutes. There are other children out
there who are at risk. There's not enough you can do to make sure your children
Ryan said Jordan has trouble sleeping and that Jake and Mackenzie miss
Teague's companionship. He said the family finds strength in each other.
"Jordan is afraid to go to sleep because he's afraid he won't wake up,"
Ryan said. "He saw his brother die. We've assured him that he's fine. But he
thinks he'll die if he closes his eyes."
Ryan said Hofstra University has been tremendous in the family's time of
need and that the Teague W. Ryan Scholarship Fund already has raised more than
a father reading to a little boy.
"I never talked to Gable about anything but wrestling," Ryan said. "But
he's been there for me. He knows about loss. His sister was murdered in high
school and he used her death as a driving force in his life to make him a
better person and mold his future.
"Teague's death will make me a better person. I have to believe there is a
higher calling and there's a plan. I have to believe in my faith and find some
"My uncle John [Hamill] asked me, 'What is the purpose of life?' And he
said, 'The purpose of life is to get to heaven.' And when I do, I know Teague
will be waiting for me. And that's helped me the most."