The last time Treva Parks stood outside the fieldhouse behind Hurricane High School, her baby boy was inside, laying on the ground beside a weight bench without a pulse or heartbeat. They wouldn’t let the panicked mother through the door.
“I didn’t think he would make it,” said Brian Sigman, the head athletic trainer at the school, “so I met her at the door and stopped her because I didn’t want her last memory of him laying there on the ground.”
Sigman was the first person to perform CPR on Hurricane quarterback Andrew Parks, who collapsed while doing squats inside the school’s weight room. The 14-year-old freshman went into full cardiac arrest, a result of what was later diagnosed at Long QT syndrome, a rare inherited heart condition that can cause rapid and chaotic heartbeats.
“There are no symptoms,” Treva Parks said. “Your symptom is you have a heart attack and die.”
Andrew collapsed on Nov. 17. He needed six shocks from a defibrillator before he turned away from death’s doorstep.
But on an unseasonably warm, rainy day in December, three days before Christmas, Andrew and his mother reunited with Sigman inside the weight room.
“The last time I saw him he was right there,” Sigman said, pointing an area left of a weight bench in the corner of the room. “Now look at him, walking and everything.”
Sigman tries to stifle his emotions as he recounts the day’s events. He leans on words like “crazy” and “amazing,” struggling to find a way to explain how a boy defied the odds.
Andrew could be dead. He could’ve survived but suffered serious disabilities because of the length of time his brain went without oxygen. Maybe he survives the trauma but can’t walk or talk.
But here he is, tall and lean and smiling as he talks about getting his arm ready to toss a football around again.
“You can’t explain it,” Sigman said. “A legit walking miracle.”
• • •
Andrew enters the fieldhouse, through a hallway adorned with photos and a countdown clock showing the number of days until the next game against Winfield. Andrew walks gingerly, the only visible effect from his 25-day hospital stay. He had to learn how to walk again, but he quickly graduated from wheelchair to walker to gait belt.
“Short of him not walking perfect, he’s back to normal,” Treva said.
Andrew wanders through the locker room, which is empty in the offseason with the exception of folding chairs and a balled-up pair of pants in front of Andrew’s locker. He wore those to school the day he collapsed.
Inside the weight room, Sigman marvels at Andrew’s recovery. Andrew had an defibrillator installed during his three-week stay at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and Sigman touches Andrew’s chest to feel the device under a button-down shirt and skin.
Andrew passed out while doing warm-ups sets, and although he hit his head, there wasn’t a bump. Multiple people performed CPR and chest compressions, but despite the downward force and repetitions, Andrew escaped without any bruises or broken ribs.
“You see my body, though?” Andrew joked as he flexed his biceps.
Being at the site of Andrew’s heart attack forces Sigman to relive the day. He asks Andrew if he recalls any details from Nov. 17.
“Nothing,” Andrew said. “Nothing from that day.”
“I don’t blame you there,” Sigman said.
Sigman remembers it vividly. He was inside the school’s gymnasium, several hundred yards from the fieldhouse, watching boys basketball practice when he received a phone call. It was the week between football season and the start of winter sports, so Sigman could have taken some time off.
But he was at school when his phone buzzed at 5:06 p.m.
“The person who called said Andrew had passed out,” Sigman said. “For some reason I parked really close to the door, which I never do. By the time I was walking out of the door two kids approached me and they were in shock.
“I drove up there and got to him and he was laying on his back. He was blue, unconscious, no pulse, no nothing. I started CPR for several minutes until EMS arrived, and they arrived within eight or nine minutes.”
Andrew was in grave condition, and one of the paramedics exited the fieldhouse to find Treva Parks.
“A paramedic comes out and starts asking me questions, like his birth date,” she said. “I ask him what’s wrong. He finally tells me that Andrew isn’t breathing, doesn’t have a heartbeat and they’re doing everything they can.”
After about 25 minutes, Andrew is transported to Putnam General, and then transferred to Cabell Huntington Hospital. He stays there for 24 hours, and the family had to decide whether to send him to Cincinnati, Cleveland or Morgantown.
They chose Cincinnati, and Andrew was admitted there without as much as opening his eyes. Doctors made no promises about Andrew’s fate.
“No one knew if he was going to make it,” Treva said. “I told the doctors that I understand he is breathing and he has a heartbeat, but he is also on life support. So, is he going to make it?
“The doctor said, ‘I can’t tell you that.’ ”
Andrew returned home Dec. 11. He attended the school’s winter formal last weekend. He and his family enjoyed a belated Thanksgiving feast Wednesday — two days before Christmas. He’ll open gifts today surrounded by family.
All of that seemed unfathomable in the wake of Andrew’s heart attack.
“The doctor told me not to bother buying any lottery tickets,” Andrew said.
Added Treva: “He said don’t … because you’ve used up all your luck.”
• • •
Andrew wants to play football again.
A couple days after he was transported to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, doctors decided to decrease his medication and remove the ventilator to see how he’d respond. Within the hour, Andrew opened his eyes.
A starting quarterback aspirant, his first words shouldn’t surprise.
“He wanted his shoes and shorts to go to football practice,” Treva said.
Andrew isn’t scheduled to return to school until Jan. 15. He has an appointment Jan. 8 to check his progress, and he’ll continue those checkups for six months.
“The goal from the cardiologists is to evaluate him again in six months,” Treva said. “It’s how his heart does now with the device.”
Then, she said, a call could be made on whether Andrew can return to athletics.
Andrew is scheduled for occupational, physical and speech therapy twice a week. He needs to pack on weight and regain strength.
As he and Sigman chatted in the weight room, Andrew took a seat on one of the weight benches near where he hit the ground. He talked about wanting to work out.
“Knowing you, you’ll probably go right back to that same rack just to challenge it,” Sigman said.
That’s why Sigman isn’t doubting the possibility of Parks’ return to the football field. Sigman received praise for effective and efficient work in helping save Andrew, as did the emergency responders who relieved an exhausted Sigman that day.
But Sigman witnessed the true reason Andrew is still here.
“Look, this just doesn’t happen,” Sigman said. “A nurse texted me and said there was maybe a three percent chance of living, of breathing on his own, and the chances of him ever walking again was point-something of a percent.
“The statistics aren’t good. They hardly ever come back. Me, the EMTs, the doctors, the nurses … they are all crucial, but he had to fight for it. He was the one who fought.”
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