Quick-Thinking Lutheran Coaches Defy Death with Life-Saving iPhone App

December 3, 2010
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Coach Cooper is always teaching. Xavier Jones, No. 35, listens in during a key timeout during championship game.

Coach Cooper is always teaching. Xavier Jones, No. 35, listens in during a key timeout during championship game.

Everybody in town has been wondering what La Verne Lutheran coach Eric Cooper, Sr., was going to do for an encore after leading the Trojans to the 2010 state championship this spring, the first time any team from La Verne has accomplished such a feat.

That answer came on Thanksgiving eve, when Coach Cooper and assistant coach John Osorno administered CPR with the aid of a downloaded iPhone app to help save the life of Xavier Jones, the team’s senior 6-foot-8, 225-pound center whose heart stopped beating during practice.

The two coaches acted quickly when they saw their star center crumple to the hardwood while practicing a two-on-two drill.

“After he caught the pass, he just dropped to his knees, kind of slow at first, then he fell backwards,” Cooper said. “His arms flew backward, then he hit his head. You knew something was terribly wrong.”

While hollering for the team to call 911, he reached into his pocket and summoned his iPhone app called “Phone Aid,” which instructs users how to apply CPR. Cooper had purchased the $1.99 app a couple of years earlier, but it was only the previous night had he bothered to mentally walk through the CPR procedures.

“It was déjà vu all over again; I had just looked at it the night before,” said Cooper, who has a reputation on the team and among the league as a gadget-savvy coach and early adopter of emerging technologies. “I went through it and practiced it, just to see how long it took. It was just off a whim. God had given me an inkling.’

All CIF coaches certify in CPR training every two years. Cooper certified again last year, but practicing on manikins can never quite prepare you for a real emergency.

After opening the app in about five seconds, Cooper set the iPhone on the floor and began following the prescribed procedures. The app comes with audible instructions, but they were hard to hear over all the commotion, so he and Orsono followed the prompts with their eyes.

They pried loose Jones’ mouthpiece, then administered the first cycle of CPR. Pinching shut Jones’ nose and tilting his chin up, they administered two breaths and 30 chest compressions, per the app and their prior training.

“After we completed the first cycle, he took one breath, then stopped again,” Cooper said.  He and Osorno began the second cycle.  At the end of the sequence, Jones took two breaths. After the third round of breaths and compressions, Jones was seizing up, but he had regained a measure of consciousness.

After calling 911, the players had been cleared from the gym with exception of Kevin Payne, who was found peeking through the door. On Sept. 3, 2010, Payne’s father, a popular figure around the Lutheran basketball family, had been killed in an automobile accident. In addition, Kenneth Jefferson, Lutheran’s varsity girls’ coach and father of 2009 MVP Kennyanna Jefferson, had recently died of cancer, and Jones’ own grandmother and one of the player’s biggest fans, had died of heart failure on Sept. 4. Many of the Lutheran players had gone through grief counseling to cope with the losses.

While administering CPR, Cooper also thought of those passing’s. He dreaded the possibility of having to call Linda Jones, Xavier’s mother, with the news that she had now lost her son.  The iPhone app and his training kept Cooper on task, however, until the paramedics arrived and transferred Jones to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where doctors induced a coma upon diagnosing that the 17-year old was suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes hardened, making it more difficult for it to pump blood.  A generation earlier, Hank Gathers, a Loyola Marymount freshman basketball star with a similar condition, had collapsed and died during a game.

Cooper’s and Orsorno’s quick-thinking, however, have given Jones, 17, a second chance at life, and, remarkably another possible shot at playing basketball again. At 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Cooper was at Jones’ bedside, and saw his player briefly open one eye before the player fell back to sleep. Then about 8 a.m., Jones awoke long enough for Cooper to needle his player. “Jones,” he instructed his bedridden star, “you’ve got to run the six-minute mile.”

Jones could only smile, because of the tubes running down his throat.  Thanksgiving night, however, Jones was remarkably lucid. The big center was used to rebounding, and he was rebounding once again. He didn’t know what had transpired in the previous 36 hours, but it was explained what had happened and how close he had come to dying.

Once the story about Jones’ remarkable comeback was shared with the media, both Jones and Cooper have been caught in a media blitz that neither of them saw even when winning a championship.  The Los Angeles Times, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, local and national television and  radio have applied their own version of the full-court press. Amazingly,  Jones got out of bed after his initial interviews and spoke to the media inside Pomona Valley Hospital’s on-site chapel, normally reserved for more somber occasions.002

Jones was on his way back. On Friday, Dec. 3, Jones underwent a successful operation to implant a cardioverter defibrillator that will keep his heart pumping rhythmically. Cooper, who has been at the hospital every day, has also scheduled a meeting with former Pepperdine star Will Kimball, who resumed his basketball career after undergoing a similar ICD operation.

Although Jones stands 6-foot-8, playing in the NBA has never been his first aspiration. Smart as a whip with a 4.0 grade point average, Jones has been angling toward a college career at West Point because it would pay his tuition right through medical school. He’ll have time to sort all those plans out in the next days, weeks and months. First he has to make it back to school, and according to Cooper, that day could come as early as Monday, Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, Cooper has a championship to defend. On the Saturday of the long Thanksgiving weekend, Lutheran squared off in a scrimmage against highly touted Lincoln High School in San Diego, where Cooper said his team won two of three contests the teams played. Not surprisingly, it was Kevin Payne picking up much of the slack for the Trojans.

The way Cooper see things, he and the team are already winners. He and Orsono did things by the book, or per Cooper’s iPhone app. “We did the right thing,” he said. “If we didn’t, we would have been picked apart. It would have been ugly.”

Now Cooper’s and Osorno’s heroism has become a teachable moment. People across the country, upon hearing the story (this writer’s wife included), have downloaded the $1.99 app. They feel a little safer and feel more confident they can respond if faced with a similar crisis.

What has distinguished Cooper’s program at Lutheran is he talks to his players not just about basketball, but about life. He even has them conduct media interviews so they represent themselves, their families and their school well. Jones saw that recent training pay off, deftly handling one hospital interview after another.

“In basketball, you’re going to get your five or 15 minutes of fame,” said Cooper, who played for Lute Olsen at Arizona in his collegiate career.  “But your character is going to follow you through all your living days.

Cooper doesn’t necessarily covet more championships, but he does thirst for more scholarships. So far, senior CJ Cooper has signed with UTEP, senior Bruce English has signed with Loyola Marymount, and junior Grant Jerrett and his son, sophomore Eric Cooper, Jr., have indicated they will attend the University of Arizona in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Another player, Alec Terry is generating interest from several top tier schools, as well.

In a word, Cooper is “prepared.” “There are lots of factors that go into winning, but you have to be prepared,” the coach said. “When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to walk through that door.

“You do everything that is humanly possible to prepare yourself,” Cooper said. “Then you let God take over.”

Just ask Xavier Jones, who said he wants an iPhone with a “Phone Aid” app for Christmas. As for Coach Cooper, he wants a defibrillator. For now, Jones carries his own in his heart.

Xavier Jones, on or off the court, plans to help Coach Cooper hoist another championship plaque.

Xavier Jones, on or off the court, plans to help Coach Cooper hoist another championship plaque.



One Response to “Quick-Thinking Lutheran Coaches Defy Death with Life-Saving iPhone App”

  1. Praise God!

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