KSLA News 12 Special Report: SJ Survives

Woman performs CPR to save kid at fair accident

COUSHATTA, LA (KSLA) - Three months have passed since an accident at the Louisiana State Fair nearly cut four year old Sheldon "SJ" Lewis' life short. Little has been known about the little boy since he left LSU Health in Shreveport for the Children's Hospital of New Orleans.

Today, SJ is alive and recovering from that horrible ordeal. His life will never be the same because of last year's accident, and neither will his family's.

A very special homecoming

KSLA News 12 was invited into a very special birthday party and welcome home party all wrapped into one for him in Coushatta.

SJ spends most of his waking hours confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. He also has a tube coming from his throat to help him breathe, and he's unable to speak.

No matter what shape he's in, many thought he wouldn't live to his fifth birthday at all.

"Just make this a great day for him, because we're thankful to still have him," his mother Lakhesia Lewis tearfully expressed to those in attendance. "He could have been gone."

She says doctors gave up on SJ in the days immediately following the accident.

"They told us we would have to make a decision to pull the plug, because he wasn't doing anything."

The fateful day

SJ was at the fair with Red River Head Start on November 2 when the accident happened.

[Listen to the 911 call here]

"The first call I got was he was stuck on the ride," Lakhesia says as she takes us through that horrifying day. "So I thought he was stuck in the air."

SJ was actually stuck underneath the Demolition Derby ride. He was knocked under a car and pinned for at least 20 minutes.

"The next call I got about five minutes later, he wasn't breathing."

When rescuers got to him, he had stopped breathing. Lakhesia was at work when it happened. We asked her what it was like to see him for the first time.

Keeping the faith

"Words couldn't even tell you. I didn't think he was going to make it. I had to re-evaluate myself and pray and stand on faith.

She credits that faith for keeping her alive when the doctors told them things didn't look good.

"At the time, my pastor was there. So we went in and surrounded him and prayed. About an hour later he woke up."

"I put my faith and trust in God," adds his grandmother Brenda Lewis. "We prayed. We're a praying family, and I knew God would answer our prayers."

Her son, SJ's dad Sheldon Lewis Sr., was with his little boy when he woke up. Lakhesia says the doctors advised them to keep their excitement in check.

"{they said}...that he would just be there," she says. "He wouldn't do anything because he wasn't moving. He wasn't moving his eyes. His eyes weren't dilating. But all that changed."

How life has changed

Surgeons at LSU Health in Shreveport had to do a tracheotomy. In that procedure, they placed a tube in SJ's throat to help him breathe. At least for now, a machine attached to that tube has to be with him wherever he goes.

"He breathes on his own," Lakhesia says. "He only needs it because he's not coughing. Soon he should be coming off of it."

SJ's hands are clenched into fists close to his body and his head remains turned to one side. His mom says those are signs of the brain damage and other physical damage done to his tiny body.

"One part of his brain that was damaged controls your muscles, makes his muscles tighten up. But he does loosen up."

He'll eventually start rehab, but not until his leg heals.

"It was just split wide open from, I guess, the tire on the ride was on it."

Blessings and blame

Until that time comes, his family says they're just happy he's alive.

"It's just a blessing that we have him here," Brenda Lewis says. "I'm gonna love him however he is, regardless, because I know God kept him here for a reason."

"...And each day he gets better, I get better. Every day is progress," Lakhesia adds.

While they're glad he's alive, his family isn't letting anyone off the hook.

In the weeks following the accident, state investigators concluded that one of SJ's Red River Head Start classmates started the ride, pinning him underneath. But those investigators also fault the ride operator. They found that he didn't follow procedure, which was to power the ride down and remove the key while he got the kids off the ride.

Lakhesia Lewis says she blames the operator. The family has filed suit alleging negligence on the part of the State Fair of Louisiana, the ride operator and the community action agency responsible for bringing the group of children from the head-start program in Coushatta to the fair on that day.

"I know the little kid. I don't fault the little kid, because the operator didn't do his job. If he had done his job, this would have never happened."

His family is optimistic about his future. They say doctors expect that he'll be able to walk and talk again.

A fundraiser for SJ and his family is scheduled for this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. in Coushatta.

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