Photo by Brian Paglia / Eagle’s Landing football coach Joe Teknipp applied a defibrillator that helped save Golden Eagles basketball star Eric Wortham Jr., but said it was a collective effort that made that harrowing day a success.
Eagle’s Landing football coach
“A kid comes to me and says, ‘Where’s Coach [Clay] Crump?’ He was in his locker room. He says, ‘Eric is down.’ I thought he had hurt his knee or something like that. Then the principal [Gabe Crerie] came in. We had just moved the defibrillator in the hallway between the cafeteria and gymnasium. He said, ‘Do you know how to use this thing? I said, ‘Yea, come on, let’s go.’ So I grab it and we came around and it’s lunch time. The place is full of tables and everything. I’m like, ‘Where is he at?’ [Assistant principal Richard] Jacoby was doing compressions, and [assitant principal Al] Kizzie was trying to evaluate stuff.
“We’d heard that he was having a seizure. I’ve been dealing with seizures from when I was at Henry County High School. I had to deal with a girl who had seizures all the time. I got down and was like, ‘He’s not having a seizure’ And we could tell he wasn’t breathing.
“I guess the biggest thing is being a coach and being calm in a difficult situation. There’s kids up on tables trying to look. Mr. Crerie was keeping everybody back, which was awesome. Coach Crump was keeping everybody away. I’m on my knees. I hook him up and start doing compressions. ... It seemed like every 10th or 15th one I could get a little [whisper]. But you could tell he wasn’t breathing. His eyes were rolled back. So, I hooked him up [to the defibrillator], had him on it and it’s analyzing. So it tells you to back away. You have to stop at that point and trust the machine.
“It said, ‘Get ready for shock.’ But you have to push the button to shock. ... I push the button, he comes about six to eight inches off the ground. He moved a little bit. At that point, every time I push in air came out and every time I let up air went in. So at that point, I’m going to keep going until someone professional is here to take over.
“I probably was only with Eric for about five to six minutes. It seems like a lifetime when you’re doing it. I could’ve sworn I was doing it for 15 minutes. For me, in that situation, I see Eric, a great athlete, a fighter. But I’m seeing a kid that has way too much to live for.
“He’s one of the kids in this school no matter what group or whatever they look up to Eric. He’s that stature. Us adults look at him because we know, as an athlete in the classroom, if we can get him doing the right things a lot more kids will do the right things. And you know, there are some big-time kids in that whole [senior] class with him — Desmond Ringer, Isaiah [Dennis], even Bill [Teknipp] and Shawanye [Lawrence] in football. There’s some larger-than-life characters in that class. ... They’re like our superheroes.
“I think for the crisis we were in, I don’t know if it could’ve been handled any better. By everybody. And I just happened to be the guy holding [the defibrillator] and put it on his chest. But Mr. Crerie controlling the crowd, Mr. Kizzie being right there holding his hand and arm and just being encouragement, Mr. Jacoby jumping in and starting to do compressions before I got there. It was just a total team effort.
“The good thing was kids were respectful and listened. They knew it was something serious. There wasn’t panic. They got everybody in the gym, there was no complaining from kids. They just sat there quietly. The kids did a good job. Everybody did a good job. And it was a great result.”
— As told to staff writer Brian Paglia