For many in Texas, high school football is a way of life.
On Aug. 16, it saved one.
Plano East assistant football coach Tom Rapp went into cardiac arrest on campus as the Panthers were moving through the final workout of the first week of practice, collapsing behind the center-field fence of the East baseball field as the team moved from outdoor work to the program’s indoor facility.
The rest, Rapp said, was a blur.
“We were having most of the practice outside, because it was so dadgum hot and all that,” he said. “We were transferring to go inside and finish up in the indoor. The offense was going to run perfect plays, and, defensively, we were going to work against the option game.
“I was walking back behind the center-field fence on the grass, because I made sure everything was off the field and that the JV kids had done all that. … I got up on the sidewalk and, to be honest with you, after I got to that point and got up a certain ways, I don’t remember much of anything after that.”
Enter East offensive coordinator Brad Bailey and athletic trainer Chris Foley.
Bailey, upon seeing Rapp had collapsed, immediately began to render aid in the form of CPR, calling out for Foley. Foley then took over as East head boys soccer coach Rick Woodard, whose son, Ben, kicks for the Panthers, retrieved the program’s automated external defibrillator (AED) from the indoor facility.
As East assistant Nathan Collins dialed 911, Foley continued to administer CPR and utilize the AED. Within minutes, head coach Joey McCullough was riding alongside Rapp on the way to the hospital, where doctors would stabilize the longtime coach and eventually implant an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
As Bailey put it, the entire ordeal was happenstance – the program’s ball bucket had broken, delaying Bailey’s move to the indoor facility, and a forgotten ID badge set him back even further. With Foley on the field collecting gear and Rapp walking toward the indoor, Bailey’s intervention proved critical.
Bailey said the incident has refocused his perspective and made him extremely thankful for both Plano ISD’s mandatory CPR certification policy for coaches and for life in general.
“I’m telling you, I didn’t think. I just started. It clicked. It was like, get help, call 911, you give the two breaths, you start the compressions – I never really even thought about it. It just happened,” he said. “You know, you think, ‘Are you going to be ready?’ That’s why you do the training every year. Everybody was Johnny-on-the-spot.”
Rapp’s incident wasn’t Foley’s first brush with life-saving measures. In addition to previously assisting a collapsed fan in the parking lot of a Dallas Cowboys game, Foley’s wife, Jacquelynn, was involved in saving a woman that collapsed at Plano Senior last fall, an experience that her husband said helped him reflect upon and cope with his own.
Originally from Massachusetts, where athletic trainers at high schools are not the norm, Chris Foley said his experience in helping save the life of a colleague represents the peak of his profession and highlights why he began working with athletes and coaches in the first place.
“In my profession, that’s as high as it gets – saving someone,” he said. “I was telling one of my coaching friends (it’s like) when a head football coach wins a state championship. He carries that around with him forever. Coach Rapp and I will be intertwined for the rest of my life. I’ll never forget that. It’s a great outcome, and I’m just happy I was there.”
Rapp expected to return home from the hospital this week and will begin transitioning back to his role as an educator and coach as his health improves. In the meantime, he expressed gratitude for the rest of the East staff, both within athletics and outside of the program, noting that there have been many cases in which nurses had to limit his visitors in the face of an influx of well-wishers.
He also praised his wife, Barbara, whom he labeled his rock.
“Jordan Byrd, the baseball coach, called me (this week) … he said, ‘Do I need to come over? Do I need to mow your yard or do laundry or anything like that? Because I know that Barb’s been down there with you the entire time you’ve been there,’” he said. “I said, 'I’m blessed because of the fact that I married a farmer’s daughter, and she’s not afraid to get out and do the work.'”
Now, as he begins his quest back to normalcy, he said he quite literally owes everything to the family of coaches and trainers that’s been built at East.
“It’s something that I’m not going to ever forget for the rest of my life. I owe these guys my life, and that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “They just kind of took it in stride. Chris Foley said, ‘That’s my job.' I said, 'Well, you did your job well.’”
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