Originally published May 15, 2013
For five months, Dave Apperson left his landscaping job early every Friday and drove to Harborview Medical Center to see his son.
For five months, Jessica Hammond was terrified to go back to work, afraid if she wasn’t with her kids in Spokane or visiting her fiancé at the hospital in Seattle, something tragic would happen.
For five months, Melissa Apperson balanced classes and homework with weekly trips to Seattle. She would tell her brother about all the songs that made her think of him.
And for five months, Shawn Apperson endured dozens of surgeries in the hospital’s famous burn unit. He survived bouts of pneumonia, unstable blood pressure, kidney failure and heart problems.
It ended on May 10, 2013. Shawn died after his care team removed him from the ventilator that has kept him alive each day since he rescued his fiancee and their baby girl from their burning Central Avenue home one cold December morning.
After pushing Jessica and their baby through a window, Shawn, 29, collapsed trying to fight his way upstairs to rescue the couple’s three other children.
Neighbors broke out windows to rescue two of them. A firefighter who burst into the home carried out the third – a frightened 3-year-old boy who hid at the sound of breaking glass.
Apperson’s bravery is honored by his family and friends.
“My son is a hero,” Dave said.
Until a month before he died, Shawn was awake, alert and finding ways to communicate. He’d even fought from his hospital bed with his siblings over the TV remote and listened to his kids talk to him on the phone. Doctors had been able to repair the skin burned over 65 percent of his body.
And then 18 terrible minutes: A sudden cardiac arrest left him paralyzed. His health spiraled.
He passed away surrounded by his family.
“I held his hand and hugged his head until he went on his own way,” his father said.
As the family grieved, they kept their focus on Shawn and Jessica’s four young children, who carried the fright of the fiery morning with them.
After firefighters pulled terrified Kaiden from his hiding place in a hallway, the boy spent a week in the hospital to treat smoke inhalation. “The stairs are on fire! The stairs are on fire!” he started yelling one day. There was no fire.Fire burned the tips of Ella’s toes when Shawn placed her on a griddle-hot basement floor so that he could smash the window and push her out to safety. She was 10 months old and on the verge of taking her first steps. She wouldn’t try again for two months.
The fire department determined the cause of the fire to be a cigarette that an overnight houseguest had left burning before leaving for work around 7 a.m. as the family slept. The fire trapped Shawn, Jessica and Ella in their basement bedrooms until Shawn broke out the window.
After months of exhaustion from having kids with her every time she went grocery shopping or took out the trash, Jessica moved back into her parents’ home. Their first day there, she taught each child how to get out of the house if there was a fire. They practiced crawling, opening windows and touching doorknobs to see if they are hot.
She also made sure the smoke detectors work. Jessica said a fire investigator told her if the smoke detectors in their Central Avenue home had been working they may have been awakened 20 minutes earlier.
Jessica and Shawn were supposed to get married a year ago. Jessica said she wanted to go to school to become a medical technician but was afraid that would remind her of Shawn.
“Everywhere I go in this town, there’s a memory,” she said.