October 20, 2012 was just another day on the third weekend in October in our crazy lives during volleyball season…sub-state. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the day we play for a chance to go to the state tournament. That morning we got up and prepared for the sub-state volleyball tournament, which is usually a pretty long morning because we typically don’t play until 2pm. We loaded the Thunder Bus and headed to Blue Valley Southwest to play our first of what we hoped would be two matches and two wins to head to the state tournament.
I can remember just about every detail of this day. I can remember the song that was playing right before we got off the bus (which I still turn off every time I hear it), I can remember all the people I spoke to at the gym but no memory is more etched in my mind than the miracle that was performed that day.
Thankfully, we won our two matches, we were in fact, headed to state. As we and Miege, the team playing on the court next to us were collecting our trophies, I heard someone yell “call 911”. One of our players said to me “I think that was Katie’s dad”. Katie was our manager. I don’t know why, or what I thought I’d do when I got up there but I sprinted up the bleachers and up to the track that went around their gym as fast as I could. When I turned the corner I realized it was not in fact, Katie’s dad.
It was mine.
I looked over the railing and screamed to my sister Jennifer and husband Bryan who coached with me, that it was our dad and then went to his side. He was purple. He didn’t appear to be breathing. I immediately started performing mouth to mouth and before I knew it, I saw a lot of familiar faces surrounding me. Faces of my sister, my husband, and several of our player’s parents. Dad’s shirt got cut off and Shelley Lewis (parent of two of our players that year), his savior in disguise, began doing chest compressions.
She got his heart beating and color returned to his face. It was decided, I’m not sure by whom, that Shelley would do compressions and Jennifer and I would talk to him. Other than the initial panic of realizing it was him and screaming at someone to go get the defibrillator I felt pretty calm. Jennifer and I spoke to him about all sorts of things, his grandkids who wanted to see Grandpa Joe and how he needed to fight for his family. I can vividly remember saying “keep fighting dad, Bell’s are fighters, you keep fighting.” I used to say that a lot when I coached. I didn’t say it after that day.
At any rate, people kept grumbling about whether or not 911 had been called because it seemed to have taken a long time for them to arrive. In the meantime, the defibrillator had arrived and we were attempting to use it. I won’t go into a lot of detail here but I can say definitively that the machine was defective. When it told us it was going to shock his heart it did not.
For a second time that day we saw our dad legally dead.
Color rushed from his face, he had stopped breathing and his heart was not beating and Shelley quickly leapt back into action. To say I have never seen anything like what she was doing to our father would be an understatement. She was possessed in the best kind of way to be possessed. At one point, another parent asked her if she wanted her to take over. Shelley didn’t look up, just rolled up her sleeves and said “no, I got this.”
I think we all knew in that moment to not get in her way and that she was being guided by something far more powerful that we could understand in that moment. For all anyone could tell, she did in fact, quite literally, have it. We’d come to find out later that Shelley actually felt the Holy Spirit telling her she was supposed to be doing those chest compressions. To be totally honest, it was only by chance that Shelley was still in the gym when Joe Bell stopped breathing. You see Shelley was hosting the post match parent party and had planned to leave to go get set up, but something told her to stick around. Chance? I think not. That’s just the beginning of the miracle.
Anyhow, back to Joe Bell not breathing…. I don’t know if any of you have ever performed CPR, but after about 3 minutes your triceps start to burn and you are pretty much ready to pass out. Because the defibrillator didn’t work properly and it took forever for the ambulance to arrive she performed chest compressions on our father for over 12 minutes. Yes, you read that right and it is not a typo…..over 12 minutes.
On a side not…most people who suffer out of hospital cardiac events like this one die or end up brain dead. More on this later.
While we performed CPR and talked to him about fighting and living, the gym, full of people, was silent except for a slight, quiet murmur we heard coming from the court down below us. I didn’t know what it was and quite frankly, didn’t care. It was only when the ENT’s finally arrived and shocked his heart back into rhythm with a working defibrillator that I looked over the edge to see what was happening.
One of our players, Emily Tripp, who was a senior that year, had apparently gathered our players and immediately started praying the rosary (there is a picture below). Almost right after she started the four other teams still in attendance and even some kids in the crowd came down on the floor to join them. Blue Valley Southwest, Aquinas and Miege students, coaches and even officials sat on the floor and prayed the rosary while we were up above them trying to save Joe Bell’s life.
I cannot imagine how scary that had to have been for those kids. Someone literally dropping dead at your volleyball games? Especially for our girls who love us like second parents and to hear our voices coaching our dad back to life…it has to be traumatic, to say the least. What a gift those kids gave us that day. For those of you who know me really well or work with me you know that Mary our Blessed Mother, is my girl! Not sure if that’s even appropriate to say, but that’s how I feel. For as long as I can remember Mary has been my go to person when I pray. I believe Mary has helped perform other miracles in my life, but that’s a story for a different day.
Mary helped perform a miracle that day, with the help of some really special people at our dad’s side.
After the ENT’s arrived they got dad in an ambulance and off to the hospital. Carri and Lorenzo Person drove us to the hospital since we couldn’t tag along in the back of the ambulance. They comforted us as we drove there in a state of shock and at this point, a bit of panic.
When we arrived at the hospital our dad was sort of conscious but screaming about pain and quite delusional. We weren’t surprised because Shelley told us as we were leaving that she was certain she broke his collar bone and likely a fair amount of his ribs. She was right.
They decided it was best to put dad on a ventilator to allow him to calm down and give his body a chance to heal.
As we waited for him to be transferred from the ER to the ICU, Carri Person, Nora Tripp and Shelley Lewis all parents of our players showed up in the waiting room to give us a much needed hug. Shortly after that, my boss, Andy Tylicki came in a tuxedo from a big event he had been attending to see if we were ok. Our family was surrounded by all the right people at the exact right time and these gestures were just a few examples of that.
In the hours and days that followed I got at least 100 emails from people who were there, students, teachers at my school, teachers at other schools and texts from all our players. That first practice back the girls were unsure of what to do or say but they did have a present for me, a new sparkly shirt they had gone and bought together. We were so blessed to be surrounded by this incredible community that went out of their way to make this awful situation just a little easier.
Dad was in a coma for about a week. We left for the state tournament that Friday and Jennifer and I were super anxious to be leaving him. They had tried to remove the tubes once and it went very badly so at this point we had no idea if he was brain damaged from his fall, his heart stopping twice and for receiving out of hospital CPR for such a long period of time.
As we left for the state tournament, I felt so torn. Both Jennifer and I had small kids, Jennifer had Logan (her youngest) only about 7 weeks before and I had 4 kids at home all 2 and under. They could tell something was weird and wrong as their mommies spent so much time at the hospital with Grandpa Joe. I was excited for our players but felt like I was being pulled in three different directions.
As our first match that night started, before the first whistle was blown, there was a ruckus in the stands. I should tell you that for some reason that season I bought two shirts, one pink, one blue, they were both sparkly. I wore one to the first match of the season and the kids were obsessed. There were “Mrs. Dorsey Sparkles” cheers and the kids insisted I wear a sparkle shirt all the time. It had quite literally become…a thing. As the referee on the ref stand spit her whistle out and took out her cell phone, I had to look to see what all the commotion was. And there is was. All of our dads wearing a sparkle shirt of their own. Carri Person had bought the same exact shirt I wore and sewed them onto white t shirts and there were our dads wearing them proudly. The exact same shirt I had worn all season long.
I think a lot of people in that gym were very confused that day, but not me. I knew exactly what was happening. Our second family, our volleyball family, wanted me to know they had my back. So they dressed their dads in sparkle shirts and they wore them the whole weekend. Our dads have worn those shirts at the state tournament every year since. Every. Single. Year. And each year it warms my heart and reminds me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
The state tournament carried on, sparkle shirts and all and we made it to the final match. I called our mom who was with Joe Bell in the hospital. She said they were going to try to take him off the ventilator and that she’d let me know how that went. I was sooooo nervous to not be there when that happened. But…here we were heading into the state title match and my attention needed to be focused there. I gave Bryan and Jennifer a hug and I remember saying that I hoped we find a way to win easily so it’s wasn’t super stressful. But…it was the state championship, so no one thought that would actually happen.
The first set was point for point until the end where we pulled away and won 25-19. The second set, you could say, the girls realized not only what they were playing for but also for whom. It was like they got in a huddle and said, we are going to go out there and own this match for our coaches…and that they did just that! We won the 2nd set 25-6, setting a new state record.
To say I was relieved would be putting it mildly. Jen, Bryan and I embraced and I sobbed. As soon as I could get to my phone I called our mom. And much to my surprise…our dad answered.
I could barely compose myself. He said “Nan, did you win?”
Not only was I talking to my dad who I haven’t seen speaking for over a week, but he seemed to have his wits about him. I told him we won and I immediately heard him say to his nurses and whoever was in the room “they won, our kids won again. Did you know….” and he proceeded to brag on his kids, the coaches.
I was stunned. He was alive. He was talking. He was aware of what was going on. Every doctor we saw for a week prepared us for the worst. Your dad likely suffered some brain damage. He fell and hit his head on concrete, he heart stopped twice, he received CPR for a long period of time and his body sustained serious injuries. One neurologist even told us that less than 1% of these types of incidents result in normal brain activity. So, in knowing that we should not expect normal brain activity from our father.
Joe Bell was in the 1%. This. Was. A. Miracle!
If you’ve been paying attention you have already seen all the little miracles mixed in here…
Let’s start with Shelley Lewis, who had somewhere else to be, who decided to stay, who felt a powerful force telling her she was doing exactly what she needed to be doing. Who performed the sub-human? Now, don’t get me wrong, Shelley’s a bad ass mom who is super fit. But Joe Bell is a grown man, 6’4 and close to 200 lbs. She beat his heart for him for over 12 minutes. What?!? That’s not normal. That’s not human. That’s GOD. That, my friends, is a miracle.
Then let’s focus on the kids. Kids! Kids who had the wherewithal to say, let’s pray. This situation needs prayer. They were in a public school in a stressful situation where it would have been easy to do nothing and just panic. And they did something. The most important something you can do. Pray!
Let’s move on to all the kids who joined them. Some of them whose season just ended. As devastated as they must have been they realized this moment was bigger than what had just happened to them and they joined in the prayer. That is pretty darn awesome!
How about all the random people in that gym that day that called 911 or our freshman coach Bob Ehler who waited outside to look for the ambulance and from what I hear, yelled at them to run faster when they seemed to be moving too slow for the seriousness of the situation.
How about the other random parent who put his line in when the paramedics couldn’t do it themselves?
How about a group of parents working together to help lift up a stressed out coaching staff in a time of need who got grown men to wear sparkly shirts and cheer like their life depended on it.
How about my sister and I? I don’t take credit for that day, so many other people were involved, but for all the years Jennifer and I got to coach together, and all the fun and successes we had together, I think this was our finest hour. Arguably, our biggest coaching victory, as our voices talked our dad back to life.
I can never express a proper amount of gratitude for all those who chipped in and literally helped save his life or those who brought meals to our house in the weeks that followed.
I can only tell you that I say prayers of gratitude for all of you (you know who you are) on a regular basis. I am grateful for the second chance Joe Bell was given and I am so incredibly humbled to know all these awesome people who stepped in and stepped up to perform this miracle.
I am happy to report Joe Bell is alive and well. If you saw him you’d never know anything ever happened to him.
I do believe that that day changed the lives of everyone there. I still run into people who tell me their story of that day and how it impacted their life. It certainly changed mine.
I have always believed in miracles. I do believe I have witnessed several and on October 20, 2012 a gym full of people witnessed one with me!
The kids who gathered below praying the rosary as we performed CPR on our dad.
Me in the middle of all the dad’s in their sparkle shirts. They look pretty darn awesome…don’t they?
I just can’t love this picture enough.
The hug post championship match. Someone snapped a picture of it…that was a super meaningful hug.
Someone who was there that day sent me this photograph the day after Dad’s incident. They had taken a picture of the crowd for some reason and they saw we were in it. She super imposed it and send it my way. What a blessing, the random acts of kindness people perform in a tough time.