On the morning of Oct. 15, the Emergency Department staff at Fitzgibbon Hospital had no idea the turn their day would take. They would spend 40 minutes valiantly attempting to resuscitate what appeared to be an otherwise healthy young man who was brought in by ambulance - with no heartbeat and unresponsive. His heartbeat returned after repeated defibrillation and CPR. Ultimately, the 19-year-old survived, and his family has more to be thankful for this year than ever before.
The Bright family of St. Louis will be thankful that the efforts of their son’s roommates at Missouri Valley College, Saline County Ambulance and hospital personnel saved their son’s life. TJ bright, a Missouri Valley College student and football player, was found unresponsive by his roommates on the morning of Oct. 18.
“We received a call that no parent should ever receive. Our 19-year-old son was found unresponsive in his dorm room. His roommates (Brendan Riojas, Nathaniel Pouliot) began administering CPR and called 911,” said Ted Bright, TJ’s father. “A local policeman or campus security continued CPR until Saline County Ambulance arrived and took over. They drove him to Fitzgibbon Hospital while still performing CPR.”
Fitzgibbon Hospital Emergency Department staff continued to work to resuscitate TJ. After more than 40 minutes, defibrillating him an additional two times over and above the three attempts made by emergency personnel on the way to the hospital and on the scene. TJ finally had a heartbeat.
For TJ’s family half a state away, there was limited availability of information as the staff worked so hard to stabilize him for transport to Boone Hospital in Columbia. The Bright family lives in St. Louis, so the physical distance also made them feel even further away.
Fitzgibbon Hospital’s “….Dr. Murphy called us just before we arrived and told us the first ‘official’ news: that they were able to revive him. And he was able to respond to primitive things and show some sort of response,” said Bright, who was clearly moved as he re-lived the experience.
They arrived at Boone Hospital shortly after TJ did by helicopter. The staff cooled TJ’s body down to 90 degrees and placed him into an induced coma while they worked to diagnose and treat such a significant medical condition.
“I will not soon forget what it was like to hold the 90-degree, lifeless arm of my son….that’s for sure,” said Bright. “We just tried to provide motivation and inspiration to him while he was in his deep coma state. He continued to fight, and about 26 hours after the event we got the first bit of good news that his heart function was returning to normal.”
Over the next few days, good news continued to come forward as TJ’s heart improved. The doctors then began to wean him off the medications that were intentionally inducing his coma.
“Within minutes of turning off the medication, he was opening his eyes, squeezing our hands and wiggling his toes. Over the next few days he continued to improve, and we walked out of that hospital seven days later,” said Bright. “The first six days we were there, doctors were preparing us to be there for weeks…or even months.”
Until the point that TJ came out of his coma, the family was still clinging to the hope that he would be okay. But it wasn’t until the evening he was allowed to wake up that they could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“For 36 hours we worked to bring his body temperature back up and then turn off the medication to see if he could wake up,” said Bright. “That is a helluva place to be as a parent. He was tough enough to have the will to survive, and he had the will to live. So he woke up within minutes of turning off the medication. It was a beautiful thing.”
TJ’s last memory was days prior to the event itself. He remembers nothing of his ordeal, though some of the memories of the prior weekend have started to come back. But what is sure about the days leading up to his health episode, there were no warnings that a cardiac event was about to happen.
“This was completely out of the blue. There was never pain or anything,” said Bright. “If there was one person on the face of the earth that I would have thought would have gone through something like this, it was not TJ. He has always been a very robust human with great immunity and a positive mindset. There were no symptoms of anything.”
TJ has since had a defibrillator implanted under the skin to shock his heart back into rhythm if an arrhythmia is detected. Doctors are still testing to determine the cause of the episode.
When asked what he would say to the emergency room staff at Fitzgibbon Hospital if he had the opportunity, Bright immediately voiced his intent which includes a reunion soon.
“Let me rephrase your question and say WHEN we have the opportunity, I absolutely cannot wait to just thank them for not giving up,” said Bright. “Seems that while every patient is different, there is a point where the decision has to be made not to continue. Most situations probably call for 20 minutes of CPR and two or three times of shocking and for good reason. In TJ’s case, his fight was seen, and they didn’t give up. I can’t wait to see them and talk to the people who were behind that. There is nothing more important than life itself, and they saved my son’s life.”
There is a GoFundMe page established to help offset some of the initial and ongoing medical bills incurred by the Bright family for TJ. You can find the page by going to gofundme.com and searching for TJ Bright Donations.