At Barry Park, a homecoming: Girl returns to visit soccer team – and coach who saved her life
Jade McKenney at Barry Park with Ted Straub, the Nottingham High School modified soccer coach who saved Jade’s life when she went into cardiac arrest. (McKenney family | Submitted photo)
The homecoming was at Barry Park, bringing everything full circle. Coach Ted Straub was on the sidelines, watching his Nottingham High School modified girls team compete with Central Square in soccer, when he turned and saw one of his players approaching, in street clothes.
It was the first time 12-year-old Jade McKenney had been to the park since she’d left by ambulance in September, after going into cardiac arrest.
“Thanks, Coach,” said Jade, who gave Straub a hug.
For a minute, no one was thinking about soccer.
“My starters were all out on the field,” said Straub, who’d also visited Jade in the hospital, “and at the end of the first quarter they were so happy to see her I was afraid they were going to trample her.”
That was Oct. 16 — exactly 36 days after Jade finished a routine day of classes at the Edward Smith School and then went to Barry Park for soccer practice. Jade asked Straub if she could run an extra lap to warm up, and the rest of the team had started on a drill when a couple of players began screaming that Jade had collapsed.
Straub ran to her. Jade wasn’t breathing. She had no pulse. Straub, a physical education teacher at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School, handed his cell phone to Priscilla Fudesco, a 13-year-old team captain, and asked her to call 911.
Straub got on his knees, lined up his shoulders above his hands, placed one hand above the other and put them on Jade’s chest.
A fellow coach, Joe Horan, ran to Straub’s side. Two nurses who’d been driving past, Don Paradise and Michele Gulla, stopped to help. Straub kept going. Three minutes after Fudesco made her call, Lt. Paul Schaap and firefighter Steve Segur of the Syracuse Fire Department arrived at the park. They gave Jade a shock with a defibrillator.
The child responded with a groan. She began struggling to breathe.
By the next day, from the hospital, she sent a message of support to her team – and an apology for disrupting the practice.
Jade’s mother, Diane Wright McKenney, said specialists determined a valve had failed in Jade’s heart. On Oct. 3, doctors performed surgery on the child at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. They inserted a mechanical valve. They discovered her right coronary artery had basically been inoperative, which is why she collapsed. By rerouting the left artery, they solved the problem.
“The doctor has been saying (this surgery) is one and done,” said Wright McKenney, who is constantly aware of how difficult the entire struggle would be for anyone, much less a 12-year-old: This is the second straight year, for instance, that Jade will be curtailed for Halloween, always a special time for a child. A year ago right now, Jade had a broken foot.
Yet in the long run, Wright McKenney said, everything looks good: Within seven or eight months, Jade should be ready to play again on the soccer field and cleared for ballet.
Most important, when she takes the field for Straub next autumn, she’ll be free of any medical concern that what happened last month might happen again.
Those who love Jade never forget what the doctors said after her collapse: In a case of cardiac arrest far from medical help, survival hinges on an almost miraculous sequence of reactions.
Chief among them: someone performing near-perfect CPR.
Straub remains a little stunned by the community response. He took a call from a man who said he saved his wife by doing CPR in the same way he’d read that Straub did it. Fellow coaches have told him they’re looking into refresher courses and more training, to make sure they’d know what to do in the same situation. American Heart Association officials called to say they’d like to find a way “to keep the ball rolling.”
As for the soccer team, Jade came to a couple of games and to a team party at the end of the season, where she met Straub’s wife, Stephanie, and their young daughters, Emily and Jocelyn.
Out of appreciation, the McKenneys — David and Diane and daughters Jade and Jett — presented Straub with a one-night family package to a Syracuse University basketball game that a neighbor had insisted on giving them, after their trial. The coach accepted with one promise: He wants to bring Jade, as a guest.
The modified team won a single game this autumn, but the players — bonded by concern for Jade — grew especially close. Straub said the season was a success in all the ways middle school sports ought to be:
“The girls were there to learn,” he said, “and to have fun and be safe.”
Next year, Jade fully intends to be a part of that again.