GREENSBORO — This holiday season, Tsedale Wallace is thankful for Page High School athletic trainer Lindsey Braddock and assistant football coach Chuck Mardis — and the lifesaving device that Braddock brings to every sports practice and game at the high school.
“Without them, my son wouldn’t be here,” Wallace said.
Braddock, who works on the Page campus as an outreach employee of Murphy Wainer Orthopedic Specialists, and Mardis were recognized at Tuesday's Guilford County Board of Education meeting for their efforts to save the life of Wallace’s 18-year-old son, Taevone Johnson.
“Thanks to these two individuals who were there in his moment of crisis,” said Deena Hayes-Greene, school board chair, in recognizing the two for their actions.
• • •
Braddock remembers the exact time she and Mardis sprang into action after Johnson slumped to the ground on the football field: 4:55 p.m. on Sept. 19. Johnson, a senior on Page’s football team, has no memory of falling.
“I don’t remember anything at all about that day,” he said.
Johnson was participating in football practice, Mardis said, when he suddenly backed up and fell, as if he had been injured. Mardis went to him to see what was wrong.
“He was unresponsive,” Mardis said.
Braddock quickly joined Mardis at Johnson’s side, while Jared Rolfes, who was head football coach at that time, called 911. As the head athletic trainer at Page, Braddock works to prevent, assess and treat injuries in student athletes. She is employed by Murphy Wainer but works at Page as part of the medical practice’s outreach program that provides athletic trainers to a number of schools in the area. Cognizant of the need for medical intervention in cases like this, the State Board of Education requires that an athletic trainer or a first responder be present at every high school football practice and game.
Noting that Johnson had no pulse and was not breathing, Braddock called to a student trainer to grab the automatic external defibrillator from the cart that she brings to practices and games, packed with first aid and medical supplies. While Braddock has used splints and bandages and other supplies countless times, this would be the first time she was called on to use the AED, a device that is placed on the patient’s chest and can be used to shock the heart back into rhythm.
Mardis and Braddock quickly removed Johnson’s equipment, and Braddock administered a shock with the AED. Mardis, a retired Greensboro firefighter, followed with CPR. The AED, which continued to monitor Johnson’s heart activity, advised them to continue CPR. Braddock and Mardis alternated work on Johnson, with one doing CPR while the other checked for a pulse and respirations, for a long five minutes. By the time firefighters and EMS arrived, they had restored a heartbeat and Johnson was breathing on his own.
• • •
Wallace got the call no parent wants to receive — telling her that her son was on his way to the emergency department at Moses Cone Hospital after passing out at football practice. She was puzzled at first.
“It was kind of cool that day,” she said, so it didn’t seem likely that heat-related illness had caused him to pass out.
She remembered, though, that she had received a call from Taevone earlier in the day, and that he had sounded tired.
“I asked him what was wrong,” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Nothing.’”
When Wallace reached Cone Hospital, she learned that he hadn’t just passed out — his heart had stopped. She experienced a frightening sense of deja vu.
“A similar incident happened when he was 10 days old,” she said.
After his heart stopped that time, doctors had run a series of tests to determine the cause, but found nothing, she said. He went about life for the next 18 years with no heart issues and no restrictions on activity, she said.
“When this happened, it was a complete shock,” Wallace said.
At the hospital, Taevone was evaluated by doctors and put into a medically induced coma for three days, Wallace said. Once again, she said, doctors were not able to find a medical explanation for why his heart had stopped. To guard against another incident, doctors implanted a defibrillator in his chest. If a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia occurs again, the defibrillator is designed to shock his heart back into rhythm.
• • •
Today, Johnson says he is grateful that Braddock and Mardis were at Page to help him. Mardis told the school board that Johnson was fortunate to be at a place where he could get quick assistance.
“If this young man hadn’t been at football practice, he might not be here today,” he said. “He was in the right place at the right time.”
The incident highlights the importance of the state policy requiring athletic trainers or first responders to be on-site at football practices and games. Going beyond the state requirements, Murphy Wainer has Braddock attend practices and games for all sports at Page, adding an additional layer of safety for other athletes.
As far as Johnson is concerned, all the right pieces were in place to help him. His heart stopped in a location where he could get immediate help. The assistant coach was there to find him when he collapsed, the athletic trainer was on-site to assess him, and an AED was immediately available to restart his heart. Just as importantly, Braddock says, Page has a detailed emergency action plan, which outlines the steps to be taken when an event like this occurs on campus, from making a 911 call to opening gates for emergency responders.
“We rehearse the EAP, and when an event occurs, everyone knows what to do,” Braddock said. “That led to the best possible outcome that day.”
Deanna Thompson is the owner of Thompson Communications in Greensboro. Murphy Wainer Orthopedic Specialists is among her clients. She can be reached at email@example.com.