When it was time for Ryland Ward to go home from University Hospital, a lot of people came together to make sure the trip was a memorable one — a ride fit for a little boy who had endured more pain and horror than anyone (especially a small child) should ever experience.
Ryland was one of nine patients rushed to University Hospital on Sunday, November 5, 2017, after a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, located about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.
For more than two months, Ryland underwent numerous surgical procedures and physical therapy sessions to help him relearn how to walk and get as much function back as possible. Everyone who cared for him marveled at his courage, strength, and sweet personality.
It is an understatement to say he was popular. He received messages of encouragement from well-wishers around the world. And his room was continually filled with new toys, especially as he spent both Christmas and his sixth birthday in the hospital.
By the start of 2018, he was the last of the 17 Sutherland Springs patients to remain hospitalized at the Level I trauma centers at University Hospital and Brooke Army Medical Center.
On January 11, his medical team was ready to send him home. He smiled and waved as he said goodbye to dozens of doctors, nurses, and staff members, including Dr. Lillian Liao, medical director of the Level I pediatric trauma center.
Ryland boarded a Stockdale Fire Department ladder truck driven by the firefighter who found him among the victims on that terrible day.
An escort of police, sheriff, and emergency response vehicles led them through the city and all the way back to Ryland’s hometown, where family and neighbors lined the street to welcome him.
It was a bittersweet day for Ryland and his family members, who were glad to be finally leaving the hospital, but were still grieving the loss of Ryland’s stepmother and the other 25 people killed in the shooting.
His homecoming story was covered by news organizations around the world as a powerful example of hope, strength and recovery in the face of unimaginable violence.