Full circle: Former Packard Children’s patient returns as a resident

Ryan Lion, who was treated for sepsis at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, has since returned to the hospital as a medical resident.

David Cornfield and Ryan Lion during Lion’s residency at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

When Ryan Lion, MD, began his pediatrics residency at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in July, he already knew some of the doctors and nurses he would be working with. Ten years before, they had saved his life.

In 2009, during the final semester of Lion’s senior year at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California, he suddenly fell very ill.

“I had felt totally normal, and then in one specific moment everything changed,” Lion recalled. “I felt feverish, had chills. The next morning, I woke up with a rash on my arm and had weakness and pain in my joints. I could barely walk.”

Ryan’s local emergency department completed a series of blood tests that were sent to Packard Children’s for further evaluation.

‘Hanging on by a thread’

David Cornfield, MD, chief of the Stanford Children’s Health Pulmonary, Asthma and Sleep Medicine Centerand former chief of critical care medicine, was on service in the pediatric intensive care unit, or PICU, that afternoon. He reviewed Lion’s lab results and recognized evidence of disseminated intravascular coagulation, a dangerous condition affecting the blood’s ability to clot and stop bleeding. He called for Lion’s immediate transfer to the PICU at Packard Children’s.

“My impression of Ryan upon arrival was profound septic shock. He was extremely ill,” said Cornfield, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine. “At that moment, I felt he was hanging on by a thread.”

Cornfield and his team worked quickly to place intravenous catheters, deliver fluids and administer antibiotics and a medication to strengthen Lion’s blood vessels. Lion spent the next week in the hospital being treated for organ damage caused by the infection.

Ultimately, he went on to graduate from high school a few months after his illness. He attended college, graduate school and medical school before matching for his pediatrics residency program in March 2019 at Stanford.

10 years later: Delivering care

“I was always interested in medicine, and being hospitalized reaffirmed my plans to pursue it,” Lion said. “But never did I imagine in that moment that I would be a physician at the very same institution that cared for me, part of the same care team, now on the other side of delivering care.”

In 2009, Lion suddenly fell very ill. He was treated at Packard Children's.
Courtesy of the Lion family

In the second month of Lion’s residency this summer, he spent a week working alongside Cornfield in the PICU.

“It was an awesome, full-circle moment knowing he was the one who cared for me in that very unit,” Lion said.  

“Walking into Ryan’s room and making the observations I did when we could still intervene is a moment I remember well. And even through the lens of now 10 years later, that memory really underscores the importance of the sorts of things we do every day,” Cornfield said. “Seeing Ryan today is a profound reminder of the deep trust people place in us as providers, and of the power of healing that has very significant long-term impact in the lives of very real people that lasts well beyond our interactions at the bedside.”

Lion also feels supported by the nurses he has worked with as a resident, some of whom helped care for him when he was a patient.

Agnes Dado, RN, has been a critical care nurse at Packard Children’s for nearly two decades and worked in the PICU during Ryan’s hospitalization. “We see our children come and go throughout the years. It can be difficult and yet rewarding at the same time,” Dado said. “Seeing Ryan where he is today is extremely rewarding.”

A unique perspective

For Lion, the experience of being hospitalized not only solidified his decision to pursue medicine when he entered college later that year, but it inspired an interest in global health and a desire to care for underserved communities.

“Here I was at this premier institution receiving this incredible care,” Lion said of his time as a patient at Packard Children’s. “I felt a need to go forward and ensure all people, both here and abroad, have access to the health care they require in their time of need.”

Ryan said that having been a patient in the same hospital where he is now providing care gives him a unique perspective.

“Knowing firsthand the stress than an ICU admission puts on patients and their families, it has been very humbling for me to be on this side of patient care,” Lion said. “I carry that experience with me during all of my patient encounters.”



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