Larry Evans died in December in the lobby of the West Wilkes High School gym.
The experience changed his life.
Evans, 67, of Conover, was revived thanks to several students, their parents and school staff members.
“There are some really, really nice people up there,” Evans said. “I think if it had happened anywhere else, I wouldn’t be here. The Lord had everything in place.”
Paige Tart, Evans' daughter, shared the following story of what happened Friday, Dec. 16, the day her father's heart stopped beating.
Evans, known to most as “Smiley,” went to West Wilkes High School (WWHS) to watch a wrestling match. His grandson, Quinton Tart, a sophomore at Alexander Central, was scheduled to wrestle that evening.
Evans walked into the lobby of the old gym. He, his daughter, and his wife, Paulette, had arrived a little early and the lobby was nearly empty. Evans decided to go to the restroom, but the door was locked.
“All I remember is reaching for the door and taking one step,” Evans said.
Tart filled in the rest.
“He turned from the locked door and immediately wore a look of surprise, fear and pain all at the same time,” Tart said. “He staggered for a few seconds and tried to brace himself against the wall but was unsuccessful. He suddenly collapsed, hit his head on the window pane and landed on the floor face down.”
Tart and her mother, Paulette, screamed for help. Tart said her father had been previously diagnosed with congestive heart failure, cardiac heart disease and underwent triple bypass surgery two years earlier.
“In an instant, our cries for help were answered and the lobby went from being almost empty to almost full with an army of people — angels — ready to help in any way they could,” Tart said. “Dad was immediately rolled over onto his back. He had a small cut near his left eye and was bleeding. Within seconds his face and tongue began to swell and he began turning blue. He soon had no pulse. No heartbeat.
At that very moment reality set in and I saw my daddy lying there completely lifeless. My family members and I had been desperately trying to call 9-1-1 in the midst of all of this but none of us had any cell phone reception at all and couldn’t get through. But within seconds Ashley Scoggins, a teacher at the school who was taking money at the ticket table, and Richard Branch, assistant football coach at West Wilkes, already had 9-1-1 on the phone, and an ambulance was already dispatched.”
Although paramedics were on the way, time was crucial. It was estimated that it would take five minutes for emergency workers to arrive.
“We all knew he didn’t have five minutes to wait,” Tart said. “By this time many people at the school were already praying for him."
Kelly Reynolds, the mother of a wrestler and a nurse; Gordon Knight, a middle school student; and Mitch Stegall, West Wilkes athletic trainer and wrestling coach, performed CPR.
Evans still didn't have a pulse.
Revived from death
Andrew Cheek, an eighth-grader, saw what was happening and thought of his aunt, Lisa Mathis, a nurse practitioner who is certified in pulmonary and critical care medicine. She was in another gym at the school, watching her husband, Todd Mathis, help coach the girls basketball team.
Andrew ran to get Mathis and, in no time, she was on the scene.
“When I got there, he was dead,” Mathis said. “He was blue, and he had no heartbeat.”
She then suddenly remembered a dream she had two weeks before. In the dream, a referee fell on the gym floor after suffering a heart attack, and Mathis revived him with an Epi-Pen, a medicine normally used to treat someone having a severe allergic reaction.
Mathis, who lives in North Wilkesboro and works at Piedmont Healthcare Pulmonology in Statesville, then asked if anyone had an Epi-Pen on hand.
Michael Woodruff, West Wilkes basketball coach and assistant athletic director, ran into the gym to see if anyone had one.
“Ask and ye shall receive,” Tart said. “As soon as Michael spread the word that we needed an Epi-Pen, he soon had a handful and brought them back to Lisa. She immediately used the first one on him, but he still had no pulse. She quickly used the second one, and thank God it worked.”
Evans’ heart began to beat, and he opened his eyes. He had been lifeless for four-five minutes.
“It was such a relief,” Mathis said. “I’m just glad he’s OK.”
'Angels on his shoulder'
Throughout the ordeal, even after he was revived, Evans said he never felt a thing, “I was feeling great,” Evans said. “I told them, ‘I’m not going to the hospital, I’m going to go watch wrestling.’ I wanted to know what was going on. The next thing I knew, they were putting me in the ambulance."
He was transported to Frye Regional Medical Center, where he spent several nights.
“The doctors were very thorough and ran many tests,” Tart said. “He had developed slight pneumonia, which is typical in his condition because of the aspirating done while trying to revive him. He was treated with antibiotics and soon cleared of pneumonia. After performing Dad’s heart cath, his doctor smiled at us and said, ‘Your dad has an angel on his shoulder.’ We smiled and corrected him by saying, ‘Dad has many angels on his shoulder.’”
The family considers Evans' revival a miracle.
“There was no brain damage, no evidence of a heart attack, no evidence of a stroke or any further damage to his heart,” Tart said. “He was diagnosed with an episode of sudden cardiac death. Dad recently had a defibrillator implanted and is doing OK. He is very blessed and is a walking miracle. We are so grateful he is still here with us. We had lots to celebrate and had the best Christmas ever. It is clearly obvious that God still has big plans for him.”
Evans recently went back to work at Evans Brothers Contractors, which he and his brother, Everette, own.
Evans said that evening at West Wilkes High School changed his life.
“I didn’t really know how to appreciate life before,” he said. “Now, every day I thank the Lord for being here.”