MARBLE FALLS — Before 44-year-old Jon-Erik Johnson’s recent cardiac arrest, nothing gave his wife and family any reason to suspect he might suffer from a serious heart issue.
“He had just run a 5K for our church a month ago. He ran a half-marathon 18 months ago,” Marci Deering-Johnson said of her husband, who is a volunteer coach for a Marble Falls youth basketball league. “He had just (held) practice and did a quick two-on-two game with (son) Keegan and his friend against my husband and another player. … He was totally fine.”
So the Spicewood family was surprised by what happened June 19.
The coach had just loaded his 15-year-old son, Keegan Deering, and two other boys, ages 15 and 13, into his vehicle after completing the summer league practice at Marble Falls High School gym.
While driving through the parking lot, Johnson collapsed and lost control of the car, which jumped the curb and ran into the brush on the campus’ property line.
After his son called 9-1-1, Marble Falls police officers Barry Greer and Dorian Turner arrived, found the teenagers outside the vehicle and Johnson unresponsive and without a pulse. They began CPR on him.
Shortly after, Marble Falls Fire Rescue first responders Capt. Chris Harrison, Jonathon Morrison, Randy Rankin and Michael Strobo joined them with an automated external defibrillator, which uses an electric shock to jumpstart the heart.
“When you see something like that, your training and instincts kick in to do what you have to do to save that patient’s life,” said Rankin, who, like the rest of the crew, is a trained EMT as well as a firefighter.
Morrison added, “With how fast we got the pulses back after providing a shock, we soon realized it was probably going to be a good turnout, and rapid transport to Seton Highland Lakes really helped the outcome.”
Marble Falls Area EMS loaded him into an ambulance, stabilized him, took him to Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet and eventually transported him to Seton Medical Center Williamson in Round Rock.
Doctors performed surgery to open a clogged artery in his heart, according to his wife.
He remained sedated for several days.
“It’s very scary. They call it the ‘widow maker,’ this type of blockage,” she said. “Most people don’t survive it.”
By June 22, Johnson could interact with his family again.
“At first, we weren’t sure he was going to wake up,” his wife said. “He just looked around. He was confused. He recognized us. He was going to be OK. He was going to live.”
With his artery opened, he is expected to make a full recovery.
“His chest hurts. Apparently, the police officers did the CPR too well. He broke a couple of ribs, but they did it correctly,” his wife said.
She said she expects he will continue his work volunteering as a coach for young basketball players as soon as he’s well enough.
“We’re just all so thankful. We’re all still in a little bit of shock. We just thank God that everyone did what they were supposed to do in a timely manner and got there. We’re counting our blessings that he is here with us,” she said. “From my son calling (9-1-1), and then the police getting there and (the firefighters) responding, specifically. For all those three things, they saved his life, and he’s had the best care at Seton Round Rock.”
Training plays as much a role in a successful lifesaving event as response and equipment.
“We train monthly for these types of things. It is a very critical component. Early defibrillation is very critical in making that save if somebody’s heart is in a dysrhythmia,” Fire Chief Johnny Caraway said. “I was very proud of the guys for the way they responded to the call, the way they took care of that patient. They work well together. It makes me proud to know that my guys are prepared when something like this happens.”
The emergency workers say they take the most pride in their patient’s recovery.
“It feels good that he’s making progress. It’s not every day where we get a CPR call that we actually get the patient back,” Morrison said. “It’s a very good day. He’s back with his family.”
Editor’s note: Jon-Erik Johnson declined being interviewed for this article, but his family expressed his gratitude for the emergency crews who worked together to help save his life.