Monday, July 21, 2014
Daniel Ruf died at age 22 on July 21, 2009 in San Francisco’s Pacific Medical Center after working out with Marine Corps recruiters at In-Shape Gym on Tracy Boulevard to lose weight.
I was truly happy for the first time in my life at the age of 19, the day Danny was born. I raised Danny on my own. I guess in many ways we grew up together. We went through our share of life’s ups and downs but together we always could make it to the other end no matter what the struggle and we even managed to come out stronger and closer.
The 22 years we had together were the best days of my life. He was so much fun. He grew up to be an amazing young man, a best friend to all who knew him and even those who did not… He truly cared about people and wanted to do what he could to help anyone who needed it. Danny was an amazing young man and the best kid a mom could wish for.
Danny put himself through college by working 2 jobs; he even took the bus to college an hour away until we could get him a car. Danny never complained. He made the most of every situation by enjoying the moment and time with friends. By the time Danny was 21 he was a GM Certified Mechanic and had his Associates Degree. This is quite an achievement for a boy raised by a single mom who can barely figure out where to put the oil. The economy caused the dealership to close down and Danny became unemployed for the first time, he was scared and not sure what to do. I pushed him to find work and I regret it with all my heart because he met a marine recruiter and was dead in 3 months at the age of 22.
Danny signed up for the marines on May 1, 2009 with a boot camp date of July 13. Danny was a very muscular man weighing 215 pounds at 5ft9. The marines wanted him to weigh 190. They suggested water pills, laxatives, sauna suit in the sauna and while exercising under a sweat suit and a water only diet. He tried but 190 was an unachievable weight for Danny’s body type. If they had used the neck waist ratio to determine if he was over-weight Danny would not have been required to lose any weight. I found a receipt dated 3/7/09 filled out by the tailor at Jims Formal Wear’s for a tux showing Danny was 5 ft 9 with a weight of 220 over-arm of 57 inches, a waist of 36 inches and a 17 inch neck. This was at his heaviest weight…
Danny became frustrated because he could not get his weight down even though he was dieting and working out and decided not to join the marines but did not want to let the recruiter down. Finally on July 6, 2009 Danny went in and told them he could not lose the weight and wanted to quit. They were angry and they told him that he had a tremendous opportunity to be “recon” which Danny loved …. and they gave him a new weight requirement of 199 and said they would check into an opening for July 27. So Danny said he would give it one more try.
The next day they told Danny the 27th was full so he would need to be the 199lbs by July 20th (16lbs in 13 days). On July 14, Danny was 211lbs and the recruiter said that was not good enough and instructed Danny to report the next morning to the recruiter’s gym as his guest for one-on- one training and time in the sauna with the sauna suit under a sweat suit. The day before Danny and a friend had gone to buy movie tickets and the friend wanted to buy Danny a Subway sandwich. Danny did not want to eat but finally agreed and the recruiter actually came out of the recruiting office to the Subway and demanded to know what Danny was doing, reminding him he is on a no food water only diet until he makes weight.
Danny came in my room on July 14 2009 and said, “Mom I don’t want to wear the sauna suit.” I told him if the recruiter told him to do it he should listen because they know what will be best for him. I will never ever forget my words. I could have saved my son. He said, “Okay, mom,” and went to bed.
The next morning we texted back and forth because he said he was not sure if the marines were right for him. He did not know if he could lose the weight and was worried about the 4 year commitment. He told me he was going to try his hardest and if he makes weight he will go and if not then we would just make a new plan, but he hates to fail. Danny said he was at 209lbs after breakfast that morning.
I texted him, ”How was the sauna?” but never heard back. The next call I received was from the local hospital telling me they found my number in his phone under “mom” and needed to know if I was Danny’s mom. They said there was an accident and I needed to get there. I said I was coming from a city away. The lady said, “You need to leave right now.” I knew then it was bad. I got to the hospital and they would not let me see Danny. I had to go into a room and they explained that Danny was brain damaged but they did not know the extent because he was unconscious and on life support. I prayed, “Please God, I don’t care how brain damaged he is; please don’t take him from me. “ I know that was selfish but he was the best thing that ever happened to me and I could not imagine life without him.
Danny had followed the recruiter’s instructions. They told Danny to go into the dry sauna then exercise. After about 40 minutes Danny told the recruiter he did not feel well and they told him to sit down and drink some water. Danny slipped into a coma and when the EMT’s arrived Danny’s temperature was 108 degrees.
Danny had a heavy sweat suit complete with zip up hoody jacket with the sauna suit underneath and the only thing the recruiters did was throw water on Danny… they did not remove or unzip any of Danny’s clothes. The recruiter later admitted he had no medical training yet he instructed my son to follow these radical weight loss methods. They should have told my son the loss was impossible and instead of pushing, ultimately killing my son to make their numbers. The recruiter knew he was wrong, he disposed of the sauna suit and Danny’s pants rather than returning them with Danny’s other things. The other missing item was the guest day pass from the gym. The EMT report did state that they removed a non breathable sauna suit.
Each day Danny got more and more yellow and swollen. Danny was transported to another hospital in San Francisco where he was to have better care and we were hoping to get him a liver transplant. I have never known anyone who died so I had no idea that he was not going home with me. On the 6th day they came and told me that his organs are all shutting down and there is nothing further they could do. I called my parents and they told me “Well, why would you care? You were going to let him go to Afghanistan.” He never regained consciousness. I asked that he have pain medicine so he would not feel the life support stopping they said he did and we stopped the blood pressure first and he kept it beating and then after about 2 hours I said, “Okay, stop the breathing machine,” which was the only other life support and he continued for a total of 6 hours. He lived until I called my parents and put the phone to his ear and he heard them and then died seconds after the phone was hung up on July 21, 2009. The cause of death was multi-organ system failure, hyperthermia with dehydration, exercise with occlusive gear, mild cardiomegaly with myocycte hypertrophy.
When I left the hospital it was all surreal. I still sometimes can’t believe this is my life now. I wish I could be with him. I find it so hard to find reason to go on with my life. It is so empty. I know we will be together again one day so I try to focus on helping people and making sure to remind people to enjoy what they have because no one knows what the future holds.
My son was not only strong physically but also had strength of mind. He had the determination, persistence and loyalty to his instructing recruiter to continue to working out as he was instructed by that recruiter (even after telling me the night before he was uncomfortable wearing the sauna suit the recruiter instructed him to wear) all the way to the point of collapse. Danny felt confident that the recruiter was committed to helping him succeed safely by passing on his knowledge and training one-on-one so in return Danny gave him every bit of strength he had.
The reward for Danny’s devotion was a marine recruiter who came to the hospital to accuse Danny of taking drugs. He wanted me to know that they may be called for court martial. Meanwhile, I was at the hospital with my son on life support, who had not come out of a coma for days and had an unspecified amount of definite brain damage. The ultimate betrayal was when the recruiter denied everything under oath. What happened to the few, the proud, the marines? I guess Danny was not a marine yet so they did not have to show him honor, truthfulness or respect. They did a toxicology test for 150 drugs using the blood from his first day in the hospital and there were no drugs or alcohol in his system other than what they EMT’s gave him. I knew he was not on any drugs. Danny hated drugs and did not want to be around anyone who did them.
The other recruiter did return to the hospital ICU and told two of my friends that he was sorry for what happened to Danny and that he believed that the marines and Danny were both responsible for pushing too hard. He said Danny was a great kid and that he wanted to take them all out on his quad. I do respect that he had the integrity to come and own up to what happened. Although later he could not recall making that statement.
My life is forever changed. Now my days just change one to the next with no real anticipation or happiness. Danny meant everything, to me he was my reason to live. He was my whole world. He truly was my best friend and my family all rolled in one.
Danny was not the kid who decided to use unsafe methods to quickly lose weight and join the marines like they would like people to believe. Danny is another recruit killed by military negligence. I want to make sure that no other mother ever has to go through what I have been through. I want everyone to know that the recruiters are not all honest and they are not all trained to give the advice they give and you can die from extreme dieting, sauna suits, saunas and exercise.