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Stricken teen's loved ones "walk in faith'

The conference room, the hospital lounge, the hallways of University General Hospital overflow with people looking for a miracle.

The doctors have said that 18-year-old Leighton Langston, a fun-loving soccer star, likely won't recover from the apparent heart attack and resulting brain damage he suffered Friday night.

By the dozens, his friends and family have kept a vigil since he was brought to the hospital after collapsing during a summer league soccer game.

On Monday, when it looked as if death was imminent, his family ushered his friends, a few at a time, into Leighton's room in the intensive care unit to say goodbye.

Then, when the St. Petersburg teenager made a slight improvement and began breathing on his own Monday, they were buoyed by hope.

"Each day's a new step," Leighton's father, Fred Langston said Tuesday. "We just walk in faith."

Leighton was standing on a soccer field behind Keswick Christian School on Friday night, talking about a party.

With about two minutes to play, Leighton jogged into the game and fell down.

"Everyone thought he was joking," his friend Phillip Eatman said. "That's his style. He's a pretty funny guy."

Scott Hutchison, a friend since middle school, thought Leighton had a cramp.

"Then he started going into seizures," Hutchison said. "We told him to lay on his back and breathe."

Two off-duty paramedics, David Raday and Mark Callahan, gave Leighton CPR until Seminole Fire Rescue paramedics arrived. If the two men hadn't been there, Leighton's father said his son would have died on the field.

Doctors said he apparently had a massive heart attack caused by an undetected heart defect, his family said. A brain scan showed only minimal brain activity.

On Saturday and again on Sunday, he seemed to be improving.

But when Lu Langston went to her son's room early Monday, the nurse said his condition was bleak. They had twice tried to remove him from the respirator. He could not breathe on his own.

About 8 a.m. Monday, the neurologist "said we were probably looking at death," Mrs. Langston said.

That's when the friends started saying their farewells.

Meanwhile, representatives from the organ donor organization tested whether he could breathe on his own.

He did.

"We don't want to give ourselves or these people false hope," Mrs. Langston said, "but it couldn't be a coincidence that while we were in here praying he breathed on his own."

Later Monday, his friends organized a prayer service at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, which was attended by more than 300 people.

Throughout the day Tuesday, Leighton was able to breathe without the respirator.

The doctors have given the family little hope. "All they can say is it's in the hands of God," Fred Langston said.

Said Lu Langston: "We know God waits until everything else looks impossible (before he acts) so that no one else can take credit."

At times, Fred Langston said, he and his wife have been curled up in the fetal position, sobbing for the son they may lose.

At other times, though, the Langstons summoned their strength to give television and newspaper interviews.

"Maybe this is an opportunity for us to give a sane word about faith," Mrs. Langston said.

Fred Langston, who once owned a Christian teen club in St. Petersburg, is self-employed as a Christian musician. Lu Langston is youth director at Northeast Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg.

Leighton last year was one of four Boca Ciega students involved in a near-fatal crash. He suffered minor injuries and kept vigil for his friend Chris Trivigno, who has since recovered from a critical head injury.

Now Trivigno keeps watch over Leighton.

Leighton transferred to St. Petersburg High last year. He planned to finish high school this summer and then enroll in St. Petersburg Junior College.

At Boca Ciega and at St. Pete High, Leighton was a soccer standout who also liked to play baseball, basketball and beach volleyball.

"He was the life of the party, a charmer," Fred Langston said. Leighton would like the media attention he's getting, his dad said.

"If this is his departure from this life, it's so in style with what he is," Fred Langston said. Then, tears choking him, he added, "It's my boy."