Unsung heroes: Pickleball players’ quick thinking saves man suffering major heart attack

Four unsung heroes stepped up to save a man's life

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - What started as a normal Pickleball match at Robert Strange Park took a grave turn for Jay Grainger last winter.

Grainger was just beginning a match on November 4, 2019 when he suddenly collapsed.

“We got ready to start and I started to feel a little faint and things were blacking out on me, so I started to get down to a knee and I guess I didn’t make it,” said Grainger.

Doctors later told him he had a 95 percent blockage in the left anterior descending artery. Its the heart attack many refer to as “the widowmaker.”

Grainger, however, happened to be in the right place at the right time; he was sharing the court with retired respiratory therapist Rudy Thurman and two registered nurses.

“There were angels playing on the court that night,” said his wife, Leigh Grainger.

Jackie Sage, an off-duty RN, quickly dialed 911 while Thurman began CPR and RN Tammy Frieberg worked to stop the bleeding on his head and count out the chest compressions.

“Within a few seconds, we realized he was having a medical emergency,” said RN Tammy Frieberg. “We just sprung into action. The years of training just took over.”

Frieberg eventually relieved Thurman and took over the chest compressions. Grainger’s wife, Leigh, ran over and began administering rescue breaths to her husband.

“I was a little bit in shock. I kept telling myself ‘you gotta stay cool, you gotta think.' You can’t get upset, you’re of no help to anyone if you’re upset,” said Leigh Grainger.

Jay Grainger was still unresponsive when Sage sent a bystander to search for an AED. The closest building was the Martin Luther King Center.

“Things couldn’t have lined up any better. The MLK center was actually closed when Kevin got there. He knocks on the door and someone is behind the counter and he lets him in,” explained Jay Grainger.

Moments later, Sage and Frieberg connected the pads of the AED to Jay Grainger’s chest and shocked his heart back into rhythm.

“It was great, I knew we had done a good thing when he was able to respond to us before he left,” said Frieberg.

The four people who stepped in to save Jay Grainger’s life were honored by the Red Cross for their actions. Sage and Frieberg were presented the certificate of merit and Thurman and Grainger were presented the certificate of extraordinary personal action.

“It saved my life, you know I can thank them all the time but you can’t say it enough. They didn’t have to do what they did and they all came to me that day and just like the people sitting on the court praying for me, it’s all part of me being here today.”

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