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Whiteland football player’s family learns why he died 2 months later

Whiteland football player’s family learns why he died 2 months later

Jenny Dreasler | News 8

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH) — After two months of unanswered questions, a Greenwood family finally knows what caused their teenage son’s death, just two days after News 8 took their concerns to the county coroner.

News 8 met family and friends of 15-year-old Ryan Latham at his August memorial and has been keeping in touch with the family ever since.

Thursday marked two months since the Whiteland Community High School student and football player died in his sleep. Until this week, Ryan’s cause and manner of death were both labeled as undetermined by the Johnson County Coroner’s Office.

Steve and Carol Latham say in the days after their son’s death, they never heard from the coroner and were left wondering what happened to their son, who they thought was healthy. That’s when they reached out to News 8’s Jenny Dreasler.

At first, his parents thought Ryan could have died from a blood clot, so they had an autopsy done. Eight weeks passed and the coroner didn’t return their calls.

On Tuesday, answers came from the funeral director. Ryan’s death certificate listed his cause of death as undetermined. His manner of death was also undetermined.

Less than 24 hours after Dreasler called the coroner herself, he updated the certificate, and the Lathams learned what killed their son.

“Honestly, with your (Jenny’s) help, we got our answers. I really feel like he (Ryan) had a sense of play in it yesterday. Where he could see we were done and he sent an amazing person like you to help us. You don’t understand the gratitude that we have. It’s tremendous,” said Steve Latham.

But the answer has left them with even more worries: Ryan died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare genetic disease.

“Last night he came over, and he said the pathologist put the slides next to each other from someone else who died very similarly and Ryan, and the slides looked exactly alike,” said Carol Latham.

The Lathams now have an amended autopsy report, the undetermined cause and manner of death changed to natural causes. But their son’s cause of death has become an unwelcome part of their new vocabulary.

“The walls of your heart, the muscles grow thicker and they get harder and then your heart can’t beat correctly. It’s a genetic problem,” said Carol Latham.

Because it’s genetic, Ryan’s little brother, 11-year-old Renny, is going to be tested along with the rest of the Latham family.

“It’s a big scare, of what it is, but it’s also a sense of relief because now we know what we’re fighting. At least when you know what you’re fighting and you can see it to us as a family, we can move forward with it,” said Steve Latham.

HCM is hard to detect and only found through genetic testing or a cardiac MRI.

Maybe it’s mother intuition, but Carol Latham told News 8 that she had a feeling, while doing research after Ryan died, that HCM could have taken her son’s life.

The Lathams told News 8 that Ryan’s tissue samples will be genetically tested at Riley Hospital for Children in the coming weeks to determine which family members could also be at risk.

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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