Canzano: Nursing the heart of college football
Not all stories have a happy ending...
Rob Martin lives in the suburbs of Seattle with his wife and teenage daughter. He works as an engineer at Boeing. He’s been employed there 31 years. But he’d only been at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. for maybe an hour when something went wrong.
“I starting perspiring,” he said. “I didn’t feel well.”
This was a couple of Thursdays ago. Washington State was hosting Utah in an important Pac-12 Conference game. Martin, 56, wasn’t supposed to be there, but he’d been invited by a friend who had an extra club-level ticket.
Andrea Perry, 33, wasn’t supposed to be there, either. She’s married with two young children and in a fight for her life. She has colon cancer. There was a surgery to remove a tumor and a section of her colon. That was followed by five weeks of radiation, a chemotherapy pump, a series of four-hour treatments, dehydration, vomiting and an emergency room visit.
“As crappy as the diagnosis was,” she said, “it made me slow down and take time with my family.”
Perry is an emergency-room nurse. She attended WSU and works at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. Her husband, Ryan, grew up in California. He’s a nurse anesthetist. They are long-time WSU season-ticket holders.
Said Ryan: “I married in.”
They have two children, a daughter and son, ages 3 and 1. The Perry family has seats on the 10-yard line, in Section 9. Prior to the season, Andrea posted on a Cougar-fan message board, indicating she was going to miss some games because of her cancer treatments.
A long-time WSU donor saw the message. He asked that I not use his name. But the gentleman owns a third-generation family-owned company that designs and builds products for the construction of telephone and power lines.
He has 10 different season tickets in Martin Stadium. He drives an RV to home games, arriving a day early and pulling his 45-foot rig into a space. His wife and children often come to the games, too.
That donor was perusing the same fan message board earlier this season when he stumbled upon Andrea’s heartfelt post.
He wondered: “What can I do to help?”
The donor messaged Andrea, offering four of his club-level seats for the Utah vs. Washington State game. She’d never seen a game from the club level. The young kids could come, too. Instead of being in the stands, squirming around during a weeknight game, they’d be able to hang out in the comfort of a box.
Sports is funny like that, isn’t it? It puts all sorts of people in the same place at the same time. We leave home, travel to the game, park, pass through the turnstiles, and settle into our seats. To the right, a nurse. To the left, an engineer. In the middle, the good-hearted owner of a manufacturing company.
All of them, in it — together.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time this college football season thinking about the increasing complexity of sports. Realignment has done that. Name-image-likeness and the transfer portal have changed the calculus, too. But after kickoff, it all sort of melts away.
Rob Martin didn’t know he had a heart condition when he went to that Utah-WSU game. Andrea Perry couldn’t have known about it either. But as Andrea and her husband, Ryan, stood in line to get coffee on the club level, they looked over, noticed Martin sitting nearby, looking distressed.
Ryan had their 1-year-old son, Grayson, strapped to his chest in a baby carrier. The 3-year-old daughter, Blakeley, was off to Andrea’s side.
“That guy doesn’t look good,” Andrea whispered to her husband. “Go see if he’s OK.”
Ryan walked over to check on the stranger. He noted that Martin was pale, sweating profusely, and struggling to sit up. His friend was trying to get him to eat something when Martin suddenly slumped forward in the chair, losing consciousness.
“I ran over,” said Andrea. “He was unresponsive.”
The ER nurse has endured a pandemic. She’s watched young, otherwise healthy patients walk through the doors of her hospital, only to end up in the ICU or dead.
“I remember coming home after my first Covid patient and I told my husband ‘We need to get our will together’ because what we were seeing was horrible,” she said. “It was so terrifying. In the ER, people die. But you don’t see marathon runners who were otherwise healthy dying. It was hard. We had no staffing. Nobody wanted to work.”
She volunteered for 16-hour shifts.
Her husband did, too.
Now, they were at a college football game, back on the front line, together. The WSU fan the couple saw before them had no pulse. He wasn’t breathing. His color was fading. Andrea yelled, “Can you hear me!?!? Are you OK!?!”
Martin didn’t respond. Then, she did what she’s trained to do — she used the knuckles of her fist to perform a sternal rub on his chest. If he were conscious, Martin would have responded to the discomfort.
“He had no response,” she said. “I knew I had to start CPR.”
Andrea and her husband moved Martin to the floor. A helpful onlooker ushered their 3-year old daughter away from the scene. And while the teams were on the field playing the first quarter of the game, the emergency-room nurse began chest compressions.
Martin’s arms flew up. He gasped for air.
“He came to,” Andrea said. “He didn’t know what happened. He didn’t know where he was. I asked him if he was diabetic. He said, ‘No.’ I asked if he were in pain. He said, ‘No.’ The paramedics arrived a while later and took over.”
I spoke with everyone involved in the incident. They’re all grateful that they found themselves in the right place, right time. The donor told me, “I don’t know what you believe, but I don’t believe it was an accident. She was exactly the right person to be there at that exact time. I will always believe that ER nurse was there for a reason.
“Imagine if she wasn’t.”
Martin remembers very little of what happened. He spent that night in the hospital. The following day, he was discharged. Two days later, he felt well enough to attend a Seahawks home game. Doctors say he has an “electrical signal” issue with his heart. There are more tests, but doctors believe they can correct it without surgery.
“I just appreciate that Andrea was present, and willing to step in,” Martin said. “She’s an angel.”
This story has a happy ending, see?
Not all of them do.
The nurse received a call from Washington State coach Jake Dickert, who offered her encouragement and sideline passes to a game. Also, former Cougars’ coach Mike Leach reached out to send some good thoughts her way. Leach was hacking and coughing on the phone.
“I may need an ER nurse myself,” the Mississippi State coach joked. “I heard you saved a guy. What are the chances?”
I’d have written this column last week, except the story wasn’t quite finished. Andrea had an important scan scheduled. Doctors wanted to see if her cancer had returned and spread.
“I just know you’re going to get good news,” Leach told her.
Turned out, he was right.
Said Andrea: “I’m in remission.”
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John, I am actually the buddy Rob was at the game with. Have known Rob since we were in college (a long time ago!). He's a very good friend and I was in complete panic mode when Andrea swept in to save the day. She was most definitely in the right spot at the right time and I can't thank her enough for what she did. So glad she got good news and is in remission! Thank you for sharing this story.
beautiful column today John