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GETTING PAST A TRAGEDY: Remembering little Teague / Hofstra wrestling coach Ryan and family fondly recall 5-year-old as they recover from his stunning death

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.

EKG recommended

"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

are healthy."

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

$80,000. Former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable sent Ryan a ceramic statue of

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."

New York Sports