George Wade III doesn’t remember much about the Tuesday afternoon when his heart stopped beating. The seventeen-year-old remembers the roll call for his physical education class, and he vaguely recalls asking if he and some classmates could play full-court basketball.
But the staff at Ooltewah High School vividly remembers every detail of October 30, 2012, in the school gymnasium.
Ooltewah coach Donnie Mullins watched George leap up to take a jump shot at the basketball hoop, then collapse to the gym floor. “At that instant, I wasn’t too alarmed,” the coach later explained. “George is a light-hearted kid, and I thought he may have been joking around.”
But the coach quickly realized the situation wasn’t a mere teenage prank. George wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing. Coach Mullins called out to the school’s athletic trainer, Randy Wilkes, for help.
The trainer rushed from his gym office, accompanied by school nurse Denice Ray. Normally, the nurse was never in the gym at the close of the school day. But on this fateful afternoon, she was in the right place at the right time—just as her colleagues.
Racing across the gym, Wilkes yelled, “Get the AED!” Coach Mullins sprinted through the gym and rushed across campus to retrieve the school’s only automatic external defibrillator, located on the far side of the cafeteria.
Trainer Wilkes and nurse Ray hurried to the boy’s side. No pulse. No heartbeat. Not even a wisp of a breath. The pair immediately administered CPR. Rick Adolph, PE teacher, called 9-1-1 to summon more help.
AED in hand, Coach Mullins raced back into the gym. Trainer Wilkes quickly attached the defibrillator. Through first-hand experience, the trainer knew the AED would guide him through the steps to jumpstart George’s heart. Focusing on the life-threatening situation at hand, he tried not to think about another time he’d used an AED on another student in another school. Tried not to remember the fatal results.
The machine took over, sending a shock through the lifeless seventeen-year-old. When George failed to respond, the trainer and nurse administered CPR once again. A second shock flashed through George’s body. This time, his heartbeat resumed.
Within minutes, Hamilton County EMS arrived on the scene. George’s classmates stood to the side, orderly and silent, as paramedics loaded the unconscious teen into a waiting ambulance.
Little did anyone realize that George’s mom, Yolanda Wade, had just arrived on campus to pick up her son from school. She caught a glimpse of the stretcher being loaded into the ambulance. A sinking feeling swept through her. Please, Lord. Don’t let it be my son.
She circled the parking lot, saw the ambulance take off, then hurriedly parked her car and rushed into the gym. Taking one look at the expression on the face of Principal Mark Bean, Yolanda knew the news was bad. “George collapsed,” the principal said, “and he’s on the way to Erlanger.”
”Right then, I knew it was serious,” Yolanda recalls. “Other hospitals were closer, and everyone knows Erlanger is the only place to go when you’re really sick.”
She also knew, from first-hand experience, about the miracles that take place at Erlanger. George, who weighed only one pound, 13.5 ounces at birth, spent the first four months of his life in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
Now he was back on Third Street, fighting for life once again.
At Erlanger, doctors determined George had experienced sudden cardiac death. An abnormally thick heart muscle, a condition known as hypertrophic heart disease, had triggered a fatal heart attack. In the pediatric intensive care unit, George received a medical treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia to lower his body temperature and help reduce the risk of any brain damage.
George’s parents and sister, April, gathered at his bedside and prayed. Doctors warned the family that the next 12 hours were critical.
Within hours, George miraculously opened his eyes. By late afternoon, he was eating applesauce, saying a few words, wanting to know what had happened to him. Over the next 24 hours, his rapid progress astounded Dr. David Gbadebo of UT Erlanger Cardiology. For full recovery, the teen would need an internal defibrillator implanted into his chest to monitor and regulate his heartbeat. Dr. Gbadebo performed the procedure less than 72 hours after George’s heart attack—several days sooner than expected due to the teen’s swift improvement.
The day after George’s surgery, Principal Bean visited the teen at the hospital. “It’s a day I will never forget,” the principal said. “I asked George how he was feeling. He flashed a big smile and said, ‘Mr. Bean, I’m just happy to be alive.’”
“George made a remarkable recovery,” Dr. Gbadebo explains. “Everything worked perfectly in his favor – from the staff on the scene to the quick EMS response to his treatment at Erlanger.”
Today, with the support of his loving family, George is resuming life to its fullest. His sister, April, resigned from her job so she could stay at home with her brother during his recovery. After the holidays, April will start graduate school and George plans to return to Ooltewah High School to complete his senior year. His ultimate goal is to follow in the footsteps of his hero, famed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, author of Gifted Hands …and help others experience the same type of Miracle on Third Street.
George Wade III, right, is grateful to the staff members of Ooltewah High School for their quick response: Athletic Trainer Randy Wilkes, kneeling with AED, PE Teacher Rick Adolph, Principal Mark R. Bean, Coach Donnie Mullins, and Nurse Denice Ray.
Parents George and Yolanda Wade, left, and sister April Warren are grateful for George’s swift recovery during this Christmas season.