By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Weston Reed isn’t just a cause to John Thomas Nabors.
He’s forever a teammate, a friend and now a guardian angel for the 15-year-old Tupelo soccer goalie.
Because of the foundation established to honor Weston Reed’s memory, a potentially fatal heart defect was found and fixed in John.
“It’s shocking to me as a mother, the reality of what could have been,” said Shelia Nabors.
On Saturday, young athletes will be able to take advantage of the same screenings that spotted John’s heart defect. The Weston Reed Foundation will make free sports physicals available to all junior high and high school athletes, whether they play at school or in other leagues. The screenings will include an electrocardiogram – a quick, noninvasive test that looks at the heart’s electrical activity and is commonly called an EKG.
It isn’t required for participation in sports in Mississippi. Dr. Karl Crossen, a Tupelo electrophysiologist, strongly encourages parents to seek this test for their young athletes.
“The majority of the things that create risk on the athletic field are cardiac,” said Crossen, who is a cardiologist who specializes in the heart’s electrical system. “Some of the things we are able to detect affect performance as well as life.”
On Saturday, they will have onsite echocardiograms – ultrasound tests that look at the heart’s structure – for young athletes who are flagged for further follow up.
It doesn’t make sense to pass up this opportunity to make kids safer on the field; and it doesn’t cost schools or families any additional money because of the medical community’s generosity with professional time and equipment, said Baldwyn High School football coach Michael Gray, who made all of his players take part in the EKG screening provided by the foundation at the annual NMMC Sports Physicals event in May.
“What if something was going on that we didn’t know about,” Gray said. “You never know what could happen.”
What are the chances?
John Thomas Nabors has clear memories of that fateful day when Weston Reed died.
The two 11-year-olds knew each other from years of playing soccer, but they had never played on the same team until they both made the 96 Boys select soccer team in the summer of 2007.
“He was always offering to help other people,” remembered John, who is the son of Shelia and John H. Nabors. “He always had a smile on his face.”
On Aug. 16, 2007, they had gathered for a scrimmage, and their spirits were high. With a sense of invincibility that only 11-year-olds can muster, John and Weston were chomping at the bit to take on the 15-year-old girls.
Julia Reed remembers John and Weston jumping higher than she’d ever seen them jump to high five.
“That’s my last visual image of Weston,” Julia Reed said of her son. “He had such a big smile on his face.”
John was standing with Weston and the coach when Weston collapsed later during that scrimmage and suffered sudden cardiac death. Physicians who were at the scene performed CPR, but there were no automated defibrillators on the scene.
“Every time I’m on that field, I think of Weston,” John Nabors said. “Sometimes, I just go stand there.”
Within months of Weston’s death, the Weston Reed Foundation was formed and held its first event. An annual conference offered screenings and CPR/AED training. The foundation raised money and bought AEDs for schools, Tupelo Parks and Recreation, law enforcement officers and community organizations.
This spring, the foundation for the first time provided EKG tests as part of the sports physical event sponsored by North Mississippi Medical Center, which the hospital has provided free of charge for years. John Thomas Nabors was one of 1,000 who took the voluntary test. He was also one of 85 flagged for further testing and was referred for an echocardiogram, which also was provided free of charge.
John ended up missing a Biloxi soccer tournament because he wasn’t cleared to play.
“He was upset,” Shelia Nabors said, “But who knows what would have happened at that tournament.”
After an echocardiogram came back clean, the Naborses mistakenly believed John was in the clear. However, he wasn’t out of the woods.
For years, John’s heart had raced, especially during sprint drills in practice. He brushed it off as normal. But right after the sports physical screenings, he started getting more intense symptoms.
When his mom became concerned, he initially tried to downplay it, not wanting to get pulled from practice and games again.
“Not my chest, I’m all right,” John tried to tell his mom, who didn’t back down. After consulting with a pediatrician, John was referred to Dr. Crossen. John was diagnosed with Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome.
“It’s something he was born with,” Crossen said.
The syndrome can cause the heart to beat abnormally fast and a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia, where the heart starts quivering instead of pumping blood.
In July, John went through an outpatient procedure where Crossen burned out the extra connection.
He’s been cleared to play and currently made the Under 17 select soccer squad.
“He’s fixed now, his EKG looks normal,” Crossen said.
The Nabors family feels a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Reeds.
“Your loss is great, but the spirit of your son brought life to our children,” Shelia Nabors said.
John’s condition affects about 3 in 1,000 people.
“It’s not even the most common thing to find in young athletes,” Crossen said.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – where the heart becomes abnormally thickened and can restrict blood flow – is the most common cause of sudden, unexpected cardiac death in people 12 to 32. It can’t be fixed, but it can be managed, Crossen said.
“Athletic participation becomes a risk,” he said. However, people with the condition – which has different forms and ranges of severity – may still be able to participate with precautions and close observation.
However, EKGs and echocardiograms won’t pick up everything that could possibly cause a cardiac emergency on the playing field.
“People change over time,” Crossen said.
For example, a cold or a virus can unmask a previously hidden problem.
That’s why it’s so important for automated defibrillators to be easily available during athletic practices and events, and people are trained to use them.
“Unless there’s an AED easily accessible and someone there knows what to do, you’re unlikely to survive,” a sudden cardiac arrest event, Crossen said. “If there is, you’ve got a good chance to save a life.”
Free sports physicals 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo. Open to junior high and high school students who play sports at school or in other leagues. No appointment necessary. Free T-shirts for students who take advantage of EKG screening, while they last.
Free CPR-AED classes at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the BancorpSouth Arena. Preregister to insure a spot by calling (662) 372-2208. Walk-ins are welcome as space allows.
Free Heartsaver CPR-AED classes will be available through the foundation Sept. 20, Oct. 12, Nov. 8 and Dec. 14 at the Link Centre in Tupelo. Call (662)372-2208.
YOU CAN HELP
Donations to help provide training and AEDs are tax deductible and can be made to the Weston Reed Foundation, c/o CREATE Foundation, PO Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802.