The last thing Sam McCright remembers, it was midway through the second quarter Monday night and he was standing at the 20-yard line at Bob Ramos wasn’t sure what had happened to McCright when he saw him collapse. The 68-year-old athletic trainer coordinator for Lakewood Orthopaedics in Dallas works football games for Gateway. Visits campus twice a week, where his gentle, professorial demeanor has earned him a nickname.
Gateway Charter Academy in southwest Dallas. He’d just put a whistle in his mouth, ready to blow the start of another play, when he fell face first into the turf.
And that was just about the last thing Sam McCright ever did.
All that prevented it was the quick, thorough work of an athletic trainer on site, a nurse out of the stands and an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
“Otherwise,” an emergency room doctor told McCright, “you wouldn’t be with us.”
Here’s what McCright, a 71-year-old retired pharmaceutical rep from Terrell, was up against: Nine of 10 victims of sudden cardiac arrest die. SCA isn’t the same as a heart attack, which damages heart muscle and can lead to cardiac arrest and death. SCA survivors often return to normal lives. But because heart stoppage eventually leads to brain damage, SCA victims must receive treatment within three to five minutes. For every minute victims go untreated, their odds of survival are reduced 7 to 10 percent.
“Prof,” they call him.
Ramos was working the Gateway-Wortham game Monday because it’d been postponed after last weekend’s rains. When Ramos and a nurse from the Wortham side, Rosanne Howard, reached McCright, the referee was breathing but unconscious. Howard began chest compressions while Ramos performed mouth-to-mouth. No response. McCright was, at that point, clinically dead. So Ramos cut away his shirt and called for an AED.
As it happens, not only did Ramos have one on his bench, Wortham had an AED, too. Since the 80th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 7 in 2007, public schools are required to have at least one AED on campus.
Ramos and Howard put the paddles on McCright and let the machine do its work. A charge restored a faint pulse. The AED directed continued CPR, which Ramos and Howard did until McCright’s color returned and his breathing improved.
Ramos worked so diligently — “Prof never looked up,” Gateway coach Walter Miller said — he didn’t notice the arrival of the EMTs, who then took over, transporting McCright to Methodist Charlton Medical Center.
McCright came to in the back of the ambulance, where EMTs told him what had happened.
One of the other officials called McCright’s wife, Karen, who was back home in Terrell watching TV with their daughter, Stacy. They don’t go to the games because they don’t like hearing the abuse an official takes. Karen thought the caller was kidding. Her husband was a little overweight, sure, but he’d always been in good shape. Great reports on check-ups. He’s worked thousands of sporting events, in fact, and except for once when he and a football player accidentally collided, giving him a concussion, it’s been a pretty easy gig.
Still, her last words when he went out the door Monday were the same as usual.
“Don’t get hurt.”
When she got the call Monday, she was told Sam had had a heart attack. It wasn’t until she and Stacy arrived at the emergency room that they were told his heart had actually stopped. His nose, probably broken by the fall, was purple and swollen. But his sense of humor remained intact.
“I’m sorry I took you away from Dancing with the Stars,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ramos’ night wasn’t even over. Once the EMTs took McCright away, other patients took his place. Ramos treated one player for a concussion, another for injured ribs and a third for an ankle sprain.
Even though AEDs are required at all Texas public schools, athletic trainers aren’t. Most of the bigger schools employ full-time ATs, but many of the smaller public and private schools don’t. Sometimes it’s a matter of money, sometimes ignorance. Just last week, the National Athletic Trainers Association released figures indicating nearly two-thirds of high schools nationally don’t have full-time ATs and almost 30 percent have no access to AT services whatsoever.
Texas is ahead of the national curve when it comes to the availability of ATs, says Dave Burton, director of Lakewood Orthopaedics. But every kid deserves proper medical care, and until we have it, Texas remains behind where it should be.
Miller, 65, is like most old coaches: For most of his career, he served as his own athletic trainer. He’s been trained in CPR, as all coaches are, but his experience was no match for what he witnessed Monday.
“Prof,” Miller said, “he’s my hero.”
The feeling among the McCrights is pretty much the same, to say the least. They got to meet their hero — “You’re my blood brother now,” Sam told Ramos — at Methodist Charlton, where Sam will undergo bypass surgery Friday to repair two arteries blocked 100 percent. In that hospital room Thursday, everyone laughed a little and cried a little and talked for an hour or more about what was remembered and what wasn’t, the actions of an AT and a nurse, a death and life again.
They also heard a story Miller told me, that at the moment McCright’s heart failed, it started raining on the field.
And when McCright’s eyes opened again, the rain stopped.
“I’m glad I saw the miracle,” is how Miller put it, “but I never want to see it again.”
You couldn’t have found anyone in Sam McCright’s hospital room Thursday who would have argued about the divine nature of Sam’s survival. But miracles come in many shapes and forms. Sometimes they even answer to nicknames.
As for Sam, he says he’s done with officiating, at least on the field. By order of the wife.
When I asked Karen why, she said, “How would I know the school would have one of those machines there? How would I be lucky enough to have . . . ”
She paused a moment, pointing at Prof.
“No, not lucky,” she said. “Blessed is a better word.”