One year after collapsing at football practice, Madison teen is recovering

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MADISON, Miss. (WJTV) – A little over a year ago, Madison Central High football player Jack Houston collapsed at practice. Madison Central’s athletic trainer Josh Hardin jumped right in to save Jack’s life.

“He ran one route, and then he just face-planted,” said his mom, Macy Wilkerson of Madison.

Jack passed out after experiencing ventricular cardiac arrhythmia, a life-threatening condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly. “One of the players ran and got the trainer, Josh Hardin. He was phenomenal,” Wilkerson said. “He cut his pads off and started the use of the AED. I recall Josh said they had to shock him four or five times.”

“It was the very beginning of practice, and I was still in the field house taking care of a couple of athletes,” said Hardin, a certified athletic trainer at the Madison Healthplex Performance Center. “One of his teammates ran up and said we had a player down.”

He rushed to Houston’s side. “Jack was not responsive,” he said. “His face was turned to the side, and his lips had started turning blue.” 

Hardin called 911.

“When you see a player down, you assume a neck injury. I got the coaches positioned, and we log-rolled him to protect his neck. I had to get to his airway. I knew that I had to get an AED (automated external defibrillator) on him because he had no pulse,” Hardin said.

According to health experts at UMMC, Jack was experiencing agonal respiration or gasping for breath that happens in unconscious people experiencing cardiac arrest. It means uninterrupted CPR must be given immediately.

Hardin shocked Jack with the AED and began CPR. Madison Fire Department paramedics, then an ambulance, arrived swiftly.

“From the time he fell out until he rolled into UMMC was probably 15 minutes,” Hardin said.

Dr. Andy Wilhelm, UMMC associate professor of pulmonology and medical director of the medical intensive care unit, helped treat Jackson.

“We provided critical care and multi-organ support, and he was put on a ventilator. We were watching his heart and vitals in the ED to make sure it didn’t happen again, and we did the same thing in the ICU while we figured out what was happening with his heart,” Wilhelm said. 

According to UMMC, but even that early on in the ED, the diagnosis of a rare disease was being narrowed down. Dr. Lampros Papadimitriou, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine who treated Jack when he arrived, and electrophysiologist Dr Takeki Suzuki recognized that Jack met the criteria for a genetic heart problem. 

Because Jack had been transported to the Adult Emergency Department, not UMMC’s Pediatric ED, he was treated in an adult ICU.

“The big question was: Why did Jack have this arrhythmia? That can be a big problem when a younger kid exercises and does sports,” Papadimitriou said.

Jack had a cardiac MRI and echocardiogram, and Dr. Brian Kirmse, associate professor of pediatric genetics, performed testing to confirm the diagnosis: arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, or ARVC. It’s an inherited heart disease that usually appears in adulthood and affects the myocardium or muscular wall of the heart.

Jack was extubated, or taken off the ventilator, after two days in the MICU and had surgery to implant a defibrillator in his chest. The 17-year-old remembers nothing about the day he fell ill and very little about his hospital stay.

“I remember waking up, and I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I lost 26 pounds, mostly in the hospital.”

“We introduced him to the proper heart failure medications, and we were able to discharge him in just four days,” Papadimitriou said. “That’s amazing for someone who had cardiac arrest, and requires very good coordination between teams from the Emergency Department, the medical ICU and cardiology.

According to doctors, Jack has the most common type of ARVC, the PKP2 mutation, and it can be passed on by either parent. Not everyone with the mutation develops the disease, and it’s not uncommon for someone to remain undiagnosed, even though they’re having symptoms.

When someone like Jack is diagnosed with the mutation, doctors said their parents and siblings need to be screened. In addition to his mom, Jack’s sister Kathleen Wilkerson was diagnosed with the mutation. Both mother and daughter are symptom-free, but must be followed by a cardiologist to catch changes that could signal manifestation of the heart condition.

“It was passed down from me,” said Wilkerson, who’s being followed by Dr. Michael Hall, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine. “We found out all of this when Jack was diagnosed.”

Wilkerson and Kathleen might never develop the disease, Hall said. “There are no signs or symptoms sometimes – until that person has a bad outcome. Fortunately, Jack survived, but there are kids who die on the football field or on the basketball court.”

Unless Jack develops new symptoms, doctors said he will be seen by a UMMC cardiology team member every six months to a year.

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