Utah State football player Josh Davis nearly died on the field last week. Here’s how the Aggies saved his life
Davis suffered a non-traumatic cardiac arrest during a spring practice inside Maverik Stadium.
They formed a circle around Josh Davis as the trainers administered CPR.
The Utah State football team — coaches, players, anybody not actively involved in the life-saving measures — gathered and took a knee. And as a hush fell over the group, head coach Blake Anderson started to shout at Davis until a chorus of deep-throated screams rallied behind him.
“Fight,” someone pleaded.
“He can hear you,” another screamed.
Anderson’s father had a heart attack years prior. And as one of his players lay unresponsive on the practice field last week, the coach remembered a conversation with his dad after he’d survived that attack. His father told him that as medics gave him CPR, he could hear what others were saying to him.
“[He] couldn’t speak. [He] couldn’t respond. But [he] could hear them talking, every word,” Anderson said. “In the back of my mind, I just heard my dad’s story. He could hear the presence of Christ and the words of my mom and the guy doing CPR. I knew Josh couldn’t respond. But he tried looking at us and could continue to fight. ...
“As long as he wanted to fight, we would have been right there yelling and screaming at him to fight.”
Davis suffered a non-traumatic cardiac arrest last Thursday in the middle of practice. He was given CPR on the field, including the use of a defibrillator, and then rushed to Logan Regional Hospital’s intensive care unit. Doctors said the chances of anybody surviving that situation are minimal.
But a week later, Davis is out of the hospital, walking on his own and sharing his story of survival.
“Every doctor we talked to says this was a miracle,” Anderson said. “He was not supposed to survive this.”
Davis, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, was going through a routine practice when he fell to the ground without taking a hit. A trainer, Kendra Gilmore, was standing right next to him and immediately started CPR.
They stripped off Davis’ helmet and his pads. Another trainer, Brady Mollner, was sent to get an AED machine — a defibrillator. The machine was on the field at the time, about 50 yards away from where Davis fell. Those machines had been installed at Merlin Olsen Field around 2009.
“We had another resident [who is CPR-certified] helping,” said Mike Williams, USU’s associate athletic director for sports medicine. “Campus police and EMS also came.”
At about that same time, a staff member texted interim athletic director Jerry Bovee to come to the field. Bovee received a picture of what was going on, making it clear there were life-saving measures taking place.
“I shut the door and said a prayer,” Bovee said. “Then I ran out of the office. Time stands still in those moments.”
Eventually, Davis was transferred to the local hospital in critical condition. However, Logan Regional Hospital is only a Level III trauma center. Once Davis improved to fair condition, he was transferred to a larger hospital about an hour away, at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. It is the fourth-largest hospital in the state and a Level II trauma center.
Davis is from Carlsbad, Calif., and his parents, Chrissy and Matt, both live there. Anderson called them at around 4:30 p.m. local time and set up a group message between him and both trainers Gilmore and Mollner.
Davis’ parents found the first flight out and arrived in Utah around 1 a.m. Friday morning. By that time, Davis had been transferred to Ogden and was in fair condition.
“They told us before you take off, call us to get an update,” Matt Davis said. “When you land, call us.”
At around 3 a.m. on Friday, the entire medical staff, Anderson, Bovee and Davis’ parents met in the hospital waiting room. At that point, Anderson and Bovee had been watching Davis sleep. He had been taken off of life-saving devices and was breathing on his own. At one point, Davis woke up and started to pull the cords off of his body. He had to be sedated by doctors and put back asleep.
Every sixth breath, Bovee said, Davis would twitch his left shoulder.
“We were watching for that,” Bovee said. “Knowing he was OK. ... At 3 a.m., everybody was saying if you want to leave, I got this. Nobody wanted to leave until mom and dad got there.”
Davis previously suffered a seizure in practice the year before. That time, he was able to get up on the field and walk off on his own accord. Originally, when Anderson saw it was Davis on the ground, he thought it was happening again.
Over the course of the last year, Davis had been looked at by the medical staff to determine the cause of the seizure and nothing was found, officials said. They also did not believe other episodes would follow.
“We did a full cardiac workout, saw specialists, and everything was normal,” Williams said. ”So he later got cleared.”
Williams could not say whether the seizure and the cardiac arrest were related, or caused by the same root issue, because he did not know the cause of the seizure.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We still don’t know.”
Davis said he likely will never play football again. He still doesn’t remember much of what happened. He loosely remembers people visiting him over the weekend. He spent much of the last week asking Anderson and his parents if the situation was similar to his seizure last year.
“It has been a crazy week,” Davis said. “Much of which I don’t have much recollection of. I was lying on the field, fighting for my life.”
As of now, Davis has full neurological function. Much of that is due to how quickly CPR was able to get oxygen to his brain.
“Every minute it is delayed, you lose a 10% chance,” Gilmore said. “You are losing neurological function. Every minute you lose a chance [to survive].”
Davis will remain around the program even if he is not playing. Anderson said he will find him a role on the team, or on staff, as long as he wants it. But for his family, the real relief is just that he is alive.
“He never quit,” Anderson said. “Had he quit, we would have been having a different conversation.”