Location: Springdale, Arkansas
Date: November 7, 1986
The Bulldogs' football game on November 7, 1986 was the last and biggest of the season for MacKenzie Phillips and his teammates of Springdale High School in Springdale, Arkansas. The annual "Dogfight" against archrival Fayetteville High School was well into its third quarter when MacKenzie, a promising seventeen-year-old defense lineman, didn't get up off the field after a play. He lay on the ground until his teammates came over to check on him. MacKenzie's eyes were rolled back, his face was blue, and he was completely unresponsive.
Team physicians ran out on the field and determined that MacKenzie was without breath or pulse. Surrounded by a stunned circle of players, doctors immediately began to administer CPR. They summoned rescuers, including paramedic Dave Creek and EMT John Baker, who were standing by on the field.
MacKenzie's parents, Betsy and Loyd Phillips, who had been watching from the bleachers, knew the situation was serious when Loyd was allowed on the playing field, which wasn't the norm following an injury. Then Loyd heard that MacKenzie wasn't breathing. Once the crowd became aware that he had collapsed from cardiac arrest, the arena fell totally silent. Players knelt and prayed as EMT Baker took over chest compressions. "It was uncanny," recalls Baker. "You could have heard a pin drop in the stadium."
MacKenzie wasn't responding to CPR. But suddenly, somebody gave a thumb's up and the crowd burst into cheers, thinking the worst was over. Their elation was short-lived, however, because the victory signal turned out to be a false alarm. It was now fifteen minutes since MacKenzie had collapsed. Paramedics had administered drugs and shocked his heart, but he had not regained a pulse. His parents stood by helplessly and watched.
"I was afraid of failure," recalls paramedic Creek. "Afraid that in front of all these people, that if we didn't get him resuscitated, it's going to be very bad. We all became very emotionally attached to the situation." "What you end up doing is praying," says Baker, who got a hernia as a result of performing CPR that day. "You're praying, please don't let him die, please don't let him die."
The rest of the game was suspended with the mutual consent of the coaches, players, and officials and the people were told to keep MacKenzie in their prayers as they left.
MacKenzie was transported to the hospital, where additional rounds of medication to stimulate his heart and shocks to convert his heartbeat to a regular pattern proved unsuccessful. Betsy held her son's hand while doctors continued to perform CPR. She squeezed MacKenzie's hand and whispered into his ear, "MacKenzie, you can make it. I love you."
Three minutes later, after one additional dose of medication, MacKenzie heart spontaneously regained its regular rhythm and his blood pressure returned to normal. His heart had been stopped for twenty-five minutes, but miraculously, he suffered neither brain damage nor other permanent effects as a result.
Betsy believes that the extraordinary efforts of everybody involved in MacKenzie's rescue made the difference between life and death. "I couldn't say thank you enough. There's no way you can ever thank anybody for your child's life."
The work of rescuers also touched MacKenzie. "It's hard to really express in words my deep gratitude. A man who would give CPR for so long that it would cause himself to have a hernia--it's really amazing that he could care so much about a person he didn't even know."
MacKenzie received medication to control the asthma that caused his cardiac arrest, and in his first year of college, he was able to follow in his father's footsteps and start as tackle for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. MacKenzie and his father consider themselves best friends and feel lucky to still have each other today. "The paramedics did great," says Loyd. "The doctors, the hospital, did great. But something like that--it's unbelievable. It's just a miracle."