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‘6 feet from baseball’s hottest team ... was a battle for life and death’

Romano | When a fan suffered a heart attack next to the Rays dugout Friday, a group of people came together to help, including an ultrasound tech who was only there by happy accident.
 
St. Petersburg Fire Rescue personnel and stadium officials moved a man from the seats next to the Rays dugout onto the field so he could be transported to the hospital after suffering a heart attack during the first inning of Friday's game at Tropicana Field.
St. Petersburg Fire Rescue personnel and stadium officials moved a man from the seats next to the Rays dugout onto the field so he could be transported to the hospital after suffering a heart attack during the first inning of Friday's game at Tropicana Field. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published June 10, 2023|Updated June 16, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The seats were the best she’d ever had at Tropicana Field, although not necessarily the ones Janie Morales wanted.

She had been hoping to sit in Randy Land, that section of bleacher seats behind Randy Arozarena in leftfield that have already become so popular for Friday night games that the Rays have added an entire second section of yellow-shirted partiers.

Her boyfriend, Ken Frey, secretly tried to purchase Randy Land seats earlier in the week and was bummed to discover both sections had already sold out. Instead, he splurged on a pair of better seats in Section 120, just an underhand toss from the Rays dugout near first base.

Ken Frey and Janie Morales were hoping to sit in Randy Land at the Rays game against the Rangers Friday at Tropicana Field but ended up in Section 120, where Morales performed CPR on a fan who was in cardiac arrest.
Ken Frey and Janie Morales were hoping to sit in Randy Land at the Rays game against the Rangers Friday at Tropicana Field but ended up in Section 120, where Morales performed CPR on a fan who was in cardiac arrest. [ John Romano ]

A former ultrasound technician who is now a stay-at-home mom for her 10- and 6-year-olds in Spring Hill, Morales had no idea Frey had bought tickets to Friday night’s game against the Rangers until about three hours before Tyler Glasnow took the mound in the first inning.

Morales, 29, was so taken with her proximity to the field, she didn’t notice the gentleman sitting in the first seat of Row J — just a handful of fans away. It was Frey, 33, who first took note of the commotion and rising voices of others at the opposite end of their consolation-prize row.

• • •

Jim Previtera had already spent the better part of the day at Tropicana Field by the time Glasnow threw a 95 mph fastball to Marcus Semien to get the game started. A former Secret Service agent and St. Pete Police assistant chief, Previtera has been the Rays’ security and stadium operations director the past five years.

He was in some backstairs hallway in another part of the stadium when he heard chatter in his ear piece about a possible cardiac incident in Section 120. Previtera began coordinating with the stadium’s operations room near leftfield to get a portable defibrillator along with medical personnel near the Rays dugout.

By the time Previtera turned the corner toward Section 120, paramedics Kevin Nguyen and Nathan Pratt were a few steps ahead of him. St. Petersburg firefighter Tyler Vilimek was at the stadium as a fire inspector Friday night but was nearby and had already responded as well.

Down near the bottom of the stairs, Previtera could see a young woman performing CPR on a man who was sprawled on the steps in the small space between the first seat and the handrail in the middle of the aisle.

Previtera calculated the size of the prone gentleman, the length of the stairs upward and the dwindling window of opportunity and immediately recognized that a stretcher brought onto the field was the only hope for a quick departure. He began screaming into the dugout for head athletic trainer Joe Benge.

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• • •

Glasnow had retired the first two Texas hitters when a handful of Rays players gathered in the far corner of the dugout to investigate the disturbance in Section 120. The initial suspicion, when they saw Previtera, was a security incident.

Once Benge left the dugout and ducked under the security netting to get into the stands, the life-and-death reality became clear. Previtera said Rays manager Kevin Cash caught his eye and made a motion toward the field, questioning whether play needed to be stopped.

Previtera said he gave Cash a “not yet” gesture as the paramedics worked. Cash later said he had decided to interrupt the game whether Glasnow retired cleanup hitter Adolis Garcia or not. When Garcia went down swinging for the third out, Cash ran onto the field to alert the umpires.

Texas pitcher Andrew Heaney had just arrived at the mound when the umpires told him to return to the Rangers dugout.

• • •

Ken Frey (Rays fan): “I saw people freaking out, and I said, ‘Babe, get up and go help.’ She looked at me, got up and went. There was a guy trying to do CPR and not doing it correctly. She kind of pushed him out of the way.”

Janie Morales (Rays fan): “I said, ‘Move, I’ve got this.’ When I checked him, he was still sitting up in his seat, but he had no pulse. I said, ‘Let’s go, we need to get him on the ground.’ We had no time; he was blue, he was cold, he had no pulse. Everybody helped get him down, a woman was holding his head, and I started doing compressions. I did three sets of 30 and he gasped. That got his pulse back.”

Debbie Brown (Security guard for CSC): “I don’t know where she came from, but all of a sudden she was there. She said, ‘Move these people,’ and then she started doing CPR. That man was lucky she was there.”

Morales: “I’m trained in CPR. And I’ve seen nurses do it in the hospital. But have I ever performed CPR? No, never. That was my first time.”

Jim Previtera (Tropicana Field stadium operations chief): “To have somebody like Janie recognize the gravity of the situation and jump right in without hesitation and immediately begin life-saving action was key. You have to have a chain of events to make this possible, and without that first link the paramedic’s work might not matter. She got it started, and then I can’t say enough about the job of St. Pete Fire and Rescue.”

Morales: “The first paramedic got there, and he said, ‘Do you have medical training?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Then put these pads on him. I put the pads on, he said, ‘All right, move, we’re going to shock him.’ And that’s when they took over.”

Lt. Garth Swingle (St. Petersburg Fire Rescue): “More than one thing had to happen in a short amount of time for the outcome to turn out right for him.”

Kevin Cash (Rays manager): “A lot of people did a lot of special things.”

• • •

It took two shocks from the defibrillator to get the man’s heart beating regularly and make him stable enough to move. Security and St. Petersburg Police helped clear several rows of seats as the man, with his shirt ripped open, was hoisted in a hammock-style wrap. The foul-ball netting was taken down so he could be moved to a stretcher on the field.

By this point he had been intubated, and paramedics raced him into a tunnel behind home plate where an ambulance waited outside Gate 4. Once inside the ambulance, Previtera said the man began communicating with medical personnel and the tube was removed from his throat.

Swingle, the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue public information officer, said Saturday morning the man was in stable condition at Bayfront Health and expected to be discharged in the coming days.

The game restarted after an eight-minute delay and, after taking a couple of innings to let the adrenalin pass, someone came to tell Morales that the gentleman had regained consciousness. It was around that time that she and Frey went off in search of margaritas.

“I am so proud of her,” Frey said.

• • •

Previtera: “Six feet away from the hottest team in baseball, there was a real battle for life and death. It was crazy. By the time they put him on the stretcher, fans around them were clapping. I felt like they were clapping not so much to wish him well, but because they had seen all of these people come together to save a life.”

Frey: “The whole intention of the night was to be in Randy Land ,and we couldn’t get in there. We ended up where we needed to be.”

Morales: “We were in the right place at the right time. It was literally God’s timing.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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