Spencer teen celebrates second chance at life
By Mark Wineka
SPENCER ó “Shock advised.”
When YMCA staff members saw those words displayed on the automated external defibrillator attached to young Travis Correll, their eyes lifted briefly but no one had to say anything.
This was the moment of truth they had all trained for.
The group around Correll made sure they were clear, and Mary Jane Randa pushed the button.
Correll’s body jerked from the electric jolt.
The AED’s next words were just as urgent:
Today, Travis Correll remembers nothing about the harrowing minutes after he collapsed in the gymnasium at the Hurley Family YMCA in Salisbury.
He feels great and has returned to the normal life of a 19-year-old, except for having his own internal defibrillator installed which can slow down or speed up his heart if needed.
Travis works at the Rite-Aid on East Innes Street and plans to return to school at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College this fall.
His heart stopped that day, June 1, after a pick-up basketball game at the Y. He has even returned to the Y and those basketball games, playing about seven times in the past two weeks.
Travis’ father and stepmother, George and Carol Sifford, held a “Celebration of Life” cookout Saturday afternoon at their home off Long Ferry Road.
It was their way to say thanks to everyone ó the Y staff, emergency responders and hospital personnel at Rowan Regional Medical Center and Presbyterian Hospital ó who played a role in bringing Travis back.
“They don’t know if he had a heart attack,” said George Correll, a Rite-Aid manager and caterer on the side, “but they know something was electrically wrong with his heart.”
The father considers his son as being “technically dead” for 56 hours, the amount of time he was on some kind of life support.
Travis said he wasn’t fully aware of where he was and what happened to him until three days after he collapsed. By then he was on the cardiac floor at Presbyterian and cognizant that he didn’t really like the food.
Eight days after his heart stopped, he had his new defibrillator and was going home. Travis walked out on his own, refusing a wheelchair.
When he entered the car to go home, his mother, Wilhemina Lowry, broke down in tears of thankfulness.
“That was the roughest part,” Travis said.
Ester Marsh, associate executive director of the Salisbury Y, was working outside on some back fields when her radio said the staff was needed for an emergency in the gymnasium.
Sometimes to the complaints of YMCA members, Y staffers regularly train and conduct emergency drills for the type of incident they confronted that early afternoon.
Travis Correll was lying on his side. Someone already had called 911, and Executive Director Sandy Flowers had arrived with “the suitcase,” which contains the AED, oxygen and other first-aid items.
“I wasn’t happy with the way he was,” Marsh recalled Saturday. She used what she called a judo technique to turn the 6-4, 250-pound Correll onto his back.
She realized there was no pulse and no rising and falling of his chest ó he wasn’t breathing.
Marsh started CPR compressions ó 30 pushes and two breaths per cycle ó while John Peterson prepared the oxygen and Randa and Barbara Franklin readied the AED.
“We all really meshed together,” Marsh said.
The staff communicated without words. Marsh was thinking Correll’s shirt should come off, and Peterson was already cutting it with scissors. She completed the job by just ripping it open.
With the AED pads attached, the words “shock advised” only confirmed what the Y staff knew: Correll was in trouble.
After the first shock, Marsh went back to CPR, seemingly pounding on Correll’s chest.
As Marsh was ending her fourth cycle of compressions and breaths, an emergency responder took over and EMS attached its own AED to the Y’s setup.
Again, a shock was advised. After the second jolt, Correll’s heartbeat and breathing returned, and once that happened, EMS wanted to transport as soon as possible.
AEDs deliver an electric jolt meant to restore the heart’s rhythm, and they have been credited with saving thousands of lives.
The use of the portable devices has become much more prevalent in places such as YMCAs and schools. All middle and high schools in Rowan County have AEDs, for example, and staffs have been trained in their use.
Peterson, youth sports director for the Hurley Family YMCA, said “it makes you feel good to go through all that training” when you see real-life results with someone such as Correll.
“Seeing him standing here now ó it’s amazing,” Peterson said. “He was lucky he had his troubles where he did.”
When Marsh saw Travis Correll at Saturday afternoon’s cookout, she gave him a hug.
“You have some color now, which I like to see,” she said.
Correll said he felt tired that day after playing basketball and told someone he was going to sit down on the bleachers.
“And that’s the last I remember,” he said.
The tough part for Correll is that he has no recollection of the people who helped him at the Y that day, and it’s frustrating not knowing whom to thank.
So he tried to thank them collectively before Saturday’s meal. “I might not know you personally, but thank you,” he said.
He also read a note from his mother, who could not attend the cookout because of surgery she had the previous day.
“‘Thank you’ doesn’t cover what I feel in my heart,” Lowry said in her note.
When Correll went through the dinner line and made his way outside to eat under a patio umbrella, he seemed like any teenager.
He sat and joked with friends, including Chad Sturdivant, Justin Nunn, Demetrius Almond, Mitch Sifford and Bryson Gaymon.
“I’m glad it happened there (at the Y), and everybody knew what was going on,” Correll said, looking back.
“It’s crazy ó I think about it every day.”
So does the YMCA staff.