By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Bryan Waddell does not remember collapsing on the field at Union County Stadium. He has no recollection of the life-saving efforts of trainers Jason Currin and Shanna Ramsey as they administered chest compressions to revive his quickly waning heartbeat, or the two electric shocks from a defibrillator that brought it back from the brink.
What Waddell does remember is the aftermath that has seen two communities, once separated by a fierce football rivalry, come together to support and celebrate the recovery of a young man who was nearly taken too soon.
What Waddell knows is, he has a whole host of new friends, too.
“I am so thankful for the Lord, for Shanna, and Coach Currin,” said Bryan. “I mostly remember waking up in the hospital and trying to calm (my mom) down because I didn’t know what was going on. I started to put it together when everyone started telling me what happened.”
What happened that night is something that anyone who was there will never forget.
During the second quarter of the Woodruff JV football team’s game against Union County on Oct. 1, the Wolverines scored a touchdown. Waddell was the holder for the extra point attempt. As he jogged off the field following the kick, Waddell collapsed onto the turf, motionless and unresponsive.
Woodruff athletic trainer Jason Currin reached Waddell within moments, followed shortly by Ramsey, the athletic trainer for Union County High School. They both quickly realized something was terribly wrong.
“I was with Bryan within seconds and I knew pretty quickly this was not your typical, run of the mill athletic injury,” said Currin. “This is much more serious. The training just kicks in but it’s really an emotional thing to even think about now. In the moment you don’t have time for emotions or time to think about what is transpiring in front of you.”
Ramsey arrived soon after Currin and quickly understood, as did her colleague, that the situation was critical.
“I think when we first got to Bryan, we weren’t sure if we were dealing with a cardiac issue,” she recalled. “Once we realized we were dealing with a cardiac event was when he wasn’t responding to shouting, he wasn’t responding to tapping, we were trying to pull his mouthpiece out of his mouth, and couldn’t get any response. Jason and I at the same time were in agreement that we were dealing with something more cardiac. When we rolled him over and checked his pulse, it just wasn’t there.”
Waddell and his family would only find out later that Bryan was in the grip of an SVT episode, or supraventricular tachycardia, a condition in which an electrical misfire within the heart causes it to beat too rapidly until, eventually, cardiac arrest can occur. It was a condition that Bryan had suffered before, but that had lain dormant for years without incident.
Time was of the essence and Ramsey knows all too well the historically bleak prognosis for athletes who lose their pulse during athletic competition. The numbers simply were not in Bryan’s favor.
“Jason and I could have done everything right and still have lost Bryan,” Ramsey said. “I know trainers who have done everything right, everything that is instilled in them to do, and still lost an athlete.”
In all, Currin and Ramsey administered 17 rounds of CPR and delivered one shock with an automated external defibrillator, known as an AED for short. Once EMS paramedics arrived on the scene within six minutes, a second shock was given to Waddell’s heart which finally restored a more normal rhythm before he was transported to the hospital.
“For Bryan to leave us in the state that he was in, it wasn’t promising,” added Ramsey. “It wasn’t, and that was when the emotions hit us of not knowing, is he going to be ok or was he not. That in itself is what is remarkable about it and how we know God’s hands were the ones that were at work.”
Bryan woke up at Union’s Wallace Thompson Hospital with no memory of what had occurred, but his recovery was one that almost defied belief. Just hours after nearly losing his life, he was laughing and joking with the nursing staff and doctors.
Just outside the hospital was another large group of well-wishers. Many parents and family of Union County players, fans too, had stopped to check on Bryan and offer their prayers and well-wishes. Ramsey was among them, along with Currin.
On Oct. 14 Waddell traveled to Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hospital in Charleston, South Carolina’s most advanced cardiac care facility, to have reparative surgery to correct the condition that caused his sudden SVT attack. Following a successful five-hour procedure, he is doing well and on the way to a full recovery said his family.
Ramsey has followed Bryan’s journey every step of the way, and in the process has become good friends with the player she helped save. Currin, Ramsey, and Waddell now share an indelible bond forged through a near-tragedy with a miraculously happy ending.
The Woodruff and Union communities and their respective football teams have also been forever bonded over the miracle that took place on that early October Thursday night.
“These two teams became one that night,” Ramsey said. “Beyond that, our guys left with a different sense of, two things, the game of football and the game of life. For these kids to see a miracle like that happen, hopefully it shows them that God is real.”
She added, “It really is a blessing in disguise. Jason and Bryan and Bryan’s family, the whole Woodruff community, they will always hold a special place in my heart. Bryan knows that I will forever be here for him and we’ll always have that connection. The same with Jason.”
Looking back, Currin credits the cohesiveness shared between himself and Ramsey for the overwhelmingly positive outcome. Neither had ever met the other before that night, but have now formed their own friendship as well.
“It definitely took a team effort,” he said. “Shanna did a heck of a job. I have sung her praises ever since because it gave me confidence and it gave her confidence. We had two people there trained in CPR and AED use and we were able to fluently provide the care that Bryan so desperately needed at that time.”
Currin continued, “You always look back and reflect on things that you have done and things that you can do better but I had a 16-year old laying there, wearing a Woodruff uniform, and especially a kid that I have known and been around and am in charge of taking care of. That completely changes your mindset because I take my job very seriously and I want to make sure all of my athletes are able to walk away from the field and be safe.”
Thanks to the efforts of Currin, Ramsey, and even the outpouring of faith and prayers from the Woodruff and Union communities, Waddell now has an opportunity to walk back onto the field where he loves playing his favorite sport.
According to his family, the cardiologist expects Bryan to make a full recovery and has told him he will be able to play football again.
Bryan’s father, Neal, admits that prospect makes him a bit nervous but seeing his son happy matters the most.
“We always knew Bryan could have another SVT episode,” said the elder Waddell. “It had been so long and you don’t think about it, but now knowing they did the procedure to take care of that gives you peace of mind. I’m not going to stop him from playing. I’ve got my hesitations about it, but as long as the doctors tell me it will be ok, I have no problem with whatever he wants to do.”
Through it all, Bryan Waddell has never stopped smiling. His smile is the most noticeable of features when meeting him for the first time. It is the smile of a young man happy to have a new lease on life, with the old and new friends who were there to help give it to him.
“It does boost my confidence a lot,” he said. “I have tried to be positive throughout everything that has happened and that has helped me a lot.”