Coming Full Circle: Former Packard Children’s Patient Returns as a Resident

Ryan Lion and Dr. David Cornfield

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

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

“I had felt totally normal and then in one specific moment everything changed,” Ryan remembers. “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.

Septic shock: Hanging on by a thread

David Cornfield, MD, chief of the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Pulmonary, Asthma and Sleep Medicine Center, and former chief of Critical Care Medicine, was on service in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) that afternoon. He reviewed Ryan’s labs and recognized evidence of disseminated intravascular coagulation, a dangerous condition affecting the blood’s ability to clot and stop bleeding. He called for Ryan’s immediate transfer to the PICU at Packard Children’s.

“My impression of Ryan upon arrival was profound septic shock. He was extremely ill,” Dr. Cornfield remembers. “At that moment, I felt he was hanging on by a thread.”

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

Ultimately, Ryan went on to graduate 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 back where it all started for him—at Stanford.

10 years later: Delivering care

“I was always interested in medicine and being hospitalized reaffirmed my plans to pursue it,” Ryan 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 the second month of Ryan’s residency this summer, he spent a week working alongside Dr. Cornfield in the PICU.

Poster includes photos highlighting Ryan’s senior year of high school and still hangs on a bulletin board in the critical care team’s offices.

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

Following Ryan’s hospitalization, his mom sent a poster to the PICU care team thanking them for their life-saving work. The poster includes photos highlighting Ryan’s senior year of high school and still hangs on a bulletin board in the critical care team’s offices.

“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 ten years later, that memory really underscores the importance of the sorts of things we do every day,” Dr. 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.”

Ryan also feels supported by the nurses he has overlapped 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 Ryan, 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,” Ryan says 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.”

Having been a patient in the same hospital where he is now providing care gives Ryan 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,” Ryan adds. “I carry that experience with me during all of my patient encounters.”


One Response to “Coming Full Circle: Former Packard Children’s Patient Returns as a Resident”

  1. Jana Caplan

    You’re learning from the best!! We love Dr Cornfield and we’ll never forget him! He’s a huge reason our son is still here today.


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