Tuesday morning, December 22, 2009. I woke around 4a.m. in hopes of getting some Christmas presents wrapped before the kids and my wife Carrie got out of bed. Our son Liam had just turned two years old on December 11th. Our very happy little guy was so excited to see what each new day would bring. Liam’s sister Lyla, who was nine months old at the time, was born with a cleft palate and chronic ear infections and was scheduled for surgery on December 28th. Our family dogs, Lloyd an eight year old male and Chessy a ten year old female, both are Weimaraners – they made the move with us from the high country of Summit County Colorado to balmy Cape Coral Florida in the summer of 2004. Like most households with working parents and two very young children, we felt stretched pretty thin with our daily routines and the holidays quickly approaching. The uncertainties of our daughter’s surgery compounded the tension and stress in the Perk household. Unfortunately, the dogs exercise routines and the amount of attention that our high energy sporting dogs needed took a backseat to our family’s priorities.
I heard the door handle rattle in Liam’s room at 6:50a.m. Off to the races, Liam is up and demanding, “Milk Daddy, Milk!”, as he stands inside the fridge. Liam began playing in his toy cabinet with milk in hand and I finished wrapping Christmas presents. Carrie and Lyla awoke around 7:15a.m. I was excited to get the day started. Liam and I were going to spend the entire day together. I mentioned to Carrie that the boys planned on going to a couple of Liam’s favorite places, take our usual walk on the boardwalk at Rotary Park in Cape Coral and then to the playground.
At 7:30a.m. I heard Liam laughing and then his bedroom door slam. I ran to his room. We don’t allow him to play with the doors closed unsupervised. I opened the door, the shades were closed, and it was a bit dark in the room. I saw Lloyd walking away from Liam as if he had just been awakened unexpectedly. I nudged Lloyd toward the open door and walked over to Liam’s bed where he was sitting. Liam said, “Open the shades Daddy”; opening the shades was an every morning event. Sitting on the bed I leaned over to open the shade to let the light in and Liam got up off the bed. I looked over and saw Lloyd still in the room. I was surprised! I thought he left the room when I nudged him toward the door, but he was sitting with his back towards us. Liam ran towards the open door, I was one step behind him. As fast as lightning, Lloyd turned his head and bit Liam on the neck. I grabbed Liam under the arms, as he was still standing. As I ran, carrying him down the hall, blood squirted with every heartbeat from Liam’s neck, streaming down the walls and covering the floors. Carrie saw, she searched franticly for the phone to call 911. I laid Liam in the kitchen to try to stop the bleeding. I saw one three-quarter inch slit in his neck. I put my finger in the slit to try to find the artery to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. With pressure applied to Liam’s neck, I carried my son to the front porch. I began CPR, a series of chest compressions and breaths, but the artery was so damaged I could not stop the bleeding. I could hear Carrie on the phone yelling, “Where is the ambulance?”! Lyla was left alone crying in the family room, I could hear her. I had the taste of iron in my mouth and then I looked down, I was completely covered with my sons blood. Liam turned blue then white. I could hear the blood gurgling in his throat his eyes began to close. I could hear the sirens. I yelled to Liam, breath come on breath! The ambulance arrives, I continue with compressions until the CMT takes over. I ask if I can ride with Liam in the ambulance and was denied. I felt like punching that guy! I ran inside, slipped in some blood and then continued to our bedroom to throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt.
I raced franticly behind the ambulance. In disbelief I was yelling, No, No Come on Liam You Can Do It! Finally I was at the hospital. There was a trauma team of seven working exhaustively to save my precious boy. I began to pace back and forth, the hospital staff would not look at me, I would peer into the room and cheer for Liam – come on Liam you can do it! All of the hospital staff would look at me and quickly look down when my eyes became visible to them. I began to pace back and forth feverishly across the halls with a huge adrenaline rush. A priest appeared; he tried to approach me, an older gentleman. I quickly turned away and told him I wouldn’t be needing his services. I keep pacing. The priest became persistent. I felt like punching him as well. A short time passes and a nurse told me it was ok to go in with Liam as they worked on him. I walked in and seven people continued to work exhaustively to save my boy. They administered three adrenaline shots and his heartbeat never came back – he had lost too much blood. The head ER doctor told me that if we continue and put him on life support that his brain had gone too long without oxygen – the doctor said at best he would have brain damage. Everyone in that room tried their hardest to save my boy. I would love to personally thank them some day, if possible.
As the hospital staff removed all the hoses, needles and life support systems I was ushered into a room where a psychologist began asking me questions. I was numb, I have no Idea what she asked – all I wanted to do was hold my boy. She said I could hold him once they were through cleaning him up. Some time passed, she told me the police were going to question me and would take my son for an autopsy. She said it was procedure in accidental death. Finally, I got to hold my son. He was still warm, I held him and wept – it seemed like forever. I wondered where his mother was. I desperately wanted her to hold our son, right then and there. I was afraid he would be cold by the time she got to hold him. I think I held him for ten minutes or so before she arrived with her sister Laurie. I passed our boy to Carrie as I wept. Two plain clothes officers arrived, a guy and a heavy set lady – real pushy. She insisted that I speak with her immediately. I told her I would like this time to hold my boy while his skin is still warm. She did not back off, I quickly added her to my list of those to get punched. She defiantly came too close – but backed off in time. After some time had passed I was finally able to talk to her – bla, bla not sure what she asked or said.
The trip back to our house – it was the longest saddest ride. I was in the backseat with my wife in disbelief. Laurie was driving the Tahoe. As we pulled down our street there were four different news vans parked in front of my house. I told Laurie to keep driving, we went down the next street and she let us out. Carrie and I walked through some neighbor’s yards to our backyard and jumped the fence to avoid the media. I was still covered in my son’s blood and had no desire for that to be on the news.
I learned later that my eight year old niece and six year old nephew came to my house with my brother-in-law Henry and saw all the blood. Henry and Bill, my father-in-law, cleaned it up before we got home. Animal control came and took both of my dogs. Nancy, my mother-in-law, was also at our house taking care of Lyla.
By now it was only 10:00a.m. or so on December 22, 2009. Just two and-a-half hours ago our lives were filled with a normal morning’s chaos. Now, our lives, our family’s lives and the lives of our close circle of friends are changed forever. For a number of days many family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and total strangers stopped by and filled our home. Then it became a little spotty when people would come by – leaving time passing so, so slowly. There’s a huge hole – everything is and feels different. The Liam Joseph Perk Fund was set up at 5th/3rd Bank by a great man. But, no money or worldly thing… I would give everything I have or will ever have to hold and love Liam only for another moment. Around 11:00a.m. Carrie and I chose to donate Liam’s eyes as part of the organ donor program. I would recognize those eyes if I saw them walking down the street – someday I may like to meet them. We had a very private ceremony for the immediate family to say good-bye. There were ten of us there including Liam. I left the memorial service a little earlier than everyone else. One of my best friends drove me over to animal services. I played with Lloyd for a moment, took his collar and said good-bye. I authorized for him to be put down. We loaded up Chessy and brought her back home. The following day, I picked my son up in a small, five inch by eight inch box. Thirty or so close friends and family met us down at the boardwalk at Rotary Park. We all walked together on Liam’s favorite walk to where it ends at the river. We played his favorite music, read his favorite book, tossed beautiful flowers in the water. We sprinkled his ashes into the rising tide so he could forever be a part of the place he loved best.
Liam was not much different than most other two year olds except for a couple of things. He was early, fast and busier. Early – he blessed us with his arrival sooner than we expected, he walked early, his vocabulary prior to being two years old included such words as macaroni, manicotti, chopper, halleluiah and a 100% understanding how to speak in first person context. Fast – he could move for a little guy. He completely understood the meaning of keeping your parents on their toes and the more people that were around he would keep them all on their toes. Busy – Liam had a complex understanding of two eyes, two ears, one mouth, two arms and two legs. He could do nine things at one time as well as change all nine things to nine other things instantly. How many two year olds can get by on six, five, four hours of sleep per night? Liam could. He slept when he needed to, not because someone said he had to or it was time to.
Carrie designed Liam’s playground. It’s not just a bunch of swings and slides put together either. Every detail has symbolic or real meaning. There is a double slide, when Carrie took Liam to the park they would slide together. There are four stars, four blades of grass and four hibiscus flowers – one for each member of our family. Ziggy Marley’s new CD, Family Time, had arrived in the mail around the 20th of December. It was to be a Christmas present to Carrie. Liam loved that music. You will find a portrayal of Ziggy on the playground. Liam’s eyes were brown, big beautiful brown – you will find the color brown as the main supports and structure of the playground. I am not going to tell you what everything means, some things we would like to keep to ourselves – at least for awhile. I hope that when you visit, you can think of my family and me and wonder what some of the other colors and things may mean. I hope that they can come to mean something for you as well.