It’s a summer evening in Massachusetts and teenager Ryleigh Ackles is enjoying a Saturday night out. She tells her mother Melissa that she’s sleeping over at a friend’s house and heads out for an evening of fun. But then, in the early hours of the morning, a car arrives on Melissa’s drive.
In August 2016 Melissa Aho lived with her daughter Ryleigh and her siblings in Gardner, a small city in northern Worcester County, Massachusetts. At 15 years old, Ryleigh was a normal teenage girl. Luckily, she and Melissa had a good relationship.
According to Melissa, Ryleigh would always tell her mom what her plans were and would keep her updated with what she was up to. So when Ryleigh asked if she could hang out with friends one Saturday night, Melissa was happy to agree.
On August 27, 2016 Ryleigh asked Melissa if she could see a movie and stay over at a friend’s house. As it turned out, though, the teenagers had a far less wholesome evening planned. In fact, they somehow got their hands on alcohol and proceeded to get drunk.
Just three streets away from her family home, Ryleigh was partying with her friends. Things were reportedly so out of control that they were drinking Cîroc vodka directly from the bottle. Considered a premium brand, the spirit packs a punch at around 70 to 80 proof.
However, the party’s mood soon turned sour. After drinking too much alcohol, Ryleigh became ill. In fact, she eventually passed out. But instead of calling for help, Ryleigh’s friends were afraid that they would be in big trouble for underage drinking.
Not knowing what to do, Ryleigh’s friends made the terrible decision to abandon the teenager to her fate. Finally, just one girl remained with Ryleigh – an acquaintance whom she hardly knew. Luckily, this girl was smart enough to realize that Ryleigh needed help.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 28, Melissa received a Facebook message that made her heart sink. Apparently, the sender had received a phone call from the girl who had remained with Ryleigh. Having tracked down Melissa on social media, she was messaging to tell her about her daughter’s condition.
Of course, Melissa’s first reaction was to try to contact Ryleigh on her cell – but the teenager didn’t pick up. Full of questions, she then tried to get answers from the girl who had messaged her. Still, there was no response. What she didn’t know, however, was that the unidentified girl was on her way to help.
After managing to locate Ryleigh and the girl who had called for help, the driver brought them to Melissa’s home. But when Melissa opened the car door, she was in for a terrible shock. Ryleigh was inside, but her body was lifeless, and she had foam coming from her mouth.
Immediately, Melissa called 911. When the ambulance crew arrived, they found the teenager unresponsive. To make matters worse, Melissa couldn’t help them by telling them exactly what Ryleigh had consumed. She knew that her daughter had drunk vodka but not how much or whether she had taken anything else.
In an attempt to revive Ryleigh, medics administered four doses of Narcan. An antidote to opiates such as heroin and morphine, it is commonly used to treat drug overdoses. However, Ryleigh was suffering from alcohol poisoning – so she did not respond to the treatment.
Unable to treat Ryleigh further at the scene, the ambulance took her to Gardner’s Heywood Hospital. However, doctors there deemed the teenager too weak for treatment. Instead, she was fitted with a tube and transferred to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center.
When Melissa and the rest of Ryleigh’s family arrived at the hospital, they were faced with some harrowing news. “The doctor came in and said to me, ‘I’m really sorry but your daughter’s not breathing on her own at all any more,’” Melissa explained in a 2017 interview with NBC Boston.
In fact, Ryleigh was in a bad way. Weighing just 92 pounds, she had a blood alcohol level of .28 – almost enough to kill a young woman of her size. Furthermore, she had vomit in her lungs and was covered in injuries from falling over while drunk.
For the next 14 hours, Melissa begged for her daughter’s life. As she sat beside the hospital bed, she was haunted by visions of Ryleigh’s short life. The day she was born, her first smile, her middle school graduation – all of these moments flashed before Melissa’s eyes.
After 14 hours of uncertainty, Ryleigh finally opened her eyes. Although she was well enough to ask for her sister Courtney, it would be a long time before she was fully recovered. In fact, she remained in hospital connected to a life support machine for the next two weeks.
As well as the alcohol poisoning, Ryleigh had sustained injuries from falling as well as lacerations to an eye, and she suffered from continued problems with her breathing. On top of that, doctors worried that the vomit on her lungs could lead to her contracting pneumonia.
Luckily, Ryleigh made a full recovery, and today she suffers no ill effects from her traumatic ordeal. But Melissa is determined to stop other teenagers from making the same mistake. She chose to share the shocking photographs of her daughter in hospital hooked up to multiple tubes with the hope that it would make others aware of how dangerous binge drinking can be.
But that’s not all. Melissa has also become a strong supporter of so-called lifeline laws – legislation that protects minors from legal repercussions if they seek help for alcohol-related issues. Currently, there are only 15 states which do not provide any form of medical amnesty, and Massachusetts is one of them. However, Melissa hopes that the law will change. Meanwhile, thanks to one girl who wasn’t afraid to get help, Ryleigh has a bright future ahead of her.