Stock photo

Stock photo

In track, every second counts. During a workout last week at Lake Highlands Junior High, the stakes were higher than anyone could have imagined.

Last Tuesday afternoon Lake Highlands Junior High coach Craig Titsworth had his sixth-period runners on the track for a relatively benign practice. It’s the offseason, so the workout consisted of a few 100-, 200- and 400-meter intervals.

As the first group barreled toward its destination, 12-year-old Joe Krejci hit the ground. It’s an old cinder track, the coach explains, so tripping and falling is not uncommon, and for a second, no one though much about it. That is until Joe didn’t get up.

“What I now know is that, at first, he laughed, but then it all changed,” Titsworth says.

The coach was some 90 meters away from the incident, he says, when he saw concerned looks cross the other boys’ faces, and they motioned for him to come.

“I sprinted, and I saw him, unconscious. I called 9-1-1.”

Titsworth handed the phone to team member Garrett Woodbury, who briefed the operator, as the coach sprung into action.

“I checked his head, stabilized his neck, felt for bumps or blood to see if it was a head injury. (It was not).”

He wasn’t breathing, but he had a pulse.

“Coach T.” — thanks to mandatory first-aid training through Richardson ISD and having a brother who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) — knew a little bit about how to handle what was happening, though there wasn’t much time to think.

He credits his team, the school nurse, front office staffers and the Divine for everything that happened next.

“I looked up to see the two fastest kids in the district standing over me,” he says. “I mean, I’m thinking, God’s provision, right? These guys, Max Orvik and Blessed Divounguy, are not just our two fastest 8th graders — they were first and second in the last citywide track meet — these are the fastest in all of Richardson ISD.”

Titsworth handed his badge to the two, plus one other sprinter, told them to run to the school nurse and return with the automated external defibrillator (AED), a device that can shock a stopped heart back to life.

“They flew,” recalls the coach.

Meanwhile, he weighed whether to start CPR. In his unconsciousness, Joe launched into these strange deep shaky gasps.

“I later learned this was agonal respiration, death breath, and he wasn’t actually breathing OK, but at the time I was thinking that you aren’t supposed to begin CPR on someone who is breathing.”

Talking again to the 9-1-1 operator, Coach said he was confused about what he was seeing — Joe’s pulse was thready, he was turning blue and drawing these labored breaths every 15-20 seconds.

“Then I saw our nurse with the AED. I dropped the phone and sprinted toward her, grabbed it, leapt back over the fence and put the pads on Joe’s chest and left side.”

The AED device registers, checks the heart rhythm and displays instructions: “Shock Advised,” it read. So Coach pressed the “shock” button.

The nurse, Annie Young, jumped in and began chest compressions, and Syreeta Love from the front office was also helping, Titsworth recalls.

The track coach, by profession a stickler for time, notes that Joe dropped to the ground at 3:04 p.m. He administered the shock at 3:12 p.m. The ambulance arrived at 3:15 p.m.

“At that point, his eyes were slack, he was blue; they intubated him, loaded him on and sped away,” Titsworth says. “I thought he hadn’t made it.”

The next step was to reach Joe’s mom, Virginia Krejci. “I’m thinking, all this has happened and his parents don’t even know,” Titsworth says.

She was sitting in her car in front of the school, waiting for classes to let out.

Joe was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, then transferred to the pediatric cardiology ICU at Children’s Hospital downtown.

“Someone from the hospital called the school and told us he was stable,” Coach T says, but he couldn’t help thinking he did something wrong.

“What if he had brain damage and it was my fault for not starting CPR soon enough?”

But before long, the junior high schooler was awake, alert and chatting with visitors.

When he visited Joe at the hospital later that night, he told the Krejcis, “I can’t imagine what you are going through, but what I am seeing now is way better than what I was seeing this afternoon.”

Doctors said the shock saved him, and that he could have died if they’d waited even a couple more minutes, Titsworth says.

Joe’s parents are understandably occupied at the moment, but we have reached out to them to see how Joe is doing and whether there is anything they need from the neighborhood.

This is not the first near-death experience within recent weeks at Lake Highlands schools.

Less than two weeks before the track episode, something strikingly similar occurred at nearby Wallace Elementary, when a mom fell to the sidewalk after leaving a PTA meeting, and the school nurse ran to her, AED in hand, and revived her.

“RISD is very deliberate in preparing staff for situations like this, with emergency response teams that are trained and drill at each school,” district spokesperson Tim Clark says. “The situation at Wallace the week before Thanksgiving involving a parent who collapsed outside of school was almost identical.”

Track season begins in February. It would be a good time for Lake Highlands residents to show up to support this special team.