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Life-saving rescue. Tearful reunion. Marriage proposal. Life at the Trop

John Romano | Six weeks after a fan was revived following a heart attack near the Rays dugout, the story somehow gets better.
 
Brad meets Janie Morales, center, moments after she was honored with a group of firefighters and paramedics on Friday. Morales, an ultrasound technician with CPR training, provided life-saving chest compressions to Brad when he suffered a heart attack next to the Rays dugout during a June 9 game.
Brad meets Janie Morales, center, moments after she was honored with a group of firefighters and paramedics on Friday. Morales, an ultrasound technician with CPR training, provided life-saving chest compressions to Brad when he suffered a heart attack next to the Rays dugout during a June 9 game. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published July 22, 2023|Updated July 22, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Even among the people entrusted with keeping him alive, the man was something of a mystery. His condition was stable, but his backstory was vague. After his first night in the hospital, the intensive care nurse asked him who he was.

Was this a test of his cognitive abilities? No, she laughed, I’m trying to find out if you’re someone important.

“I just had to call my big boss to get access to your chart,” she explained.

He was both famous and unknown. An object of intense curiosity and complete secrecy. More than 17,000 people at Tropicana Field, and countless more on television, had seen or heard of a fan suffering a heart attack in the first inning of a June 9 game, being revived by a stranger via CPR and then whisked across the field on a stretcher with little information of his eventual whereabouts or destiny.

Even now, six weeks later on his first trip back to the Trop, he is intent on maintaining his privacy. He agrees to talk about that fateful evening, but only on the condition that his last name not be used. I am not the star of this story, Brad explains affably. Instead, he says he is back at the ballpark for two very specific reasons.

No. 1, to show the world the remarkable result of stepping up to help a soul in need.

And No. 2, to personally thank Rays personnel, fire and rescue crews and the woman who, by happenstance, fate or some incredible combination of both, was just a few feet away on the night that Brad’s heart stopped cold.

“We don’t have many people with your problem,” doctors told him later, “sitting here talking to us.”

‘I was just there and I knew what to do.’

Janie Morales still hasn’t made it to Randy Land. That’s both the joke, and the salvation.

She had been wanting to sit in the special section behind Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena, but tickets were sold out on June 9 and so her boyfriend Ken Frey surprised her with much better seats a stone’s throw from first base. An ultrasound technician from Spring Hill, Janie ended up in the same row as a 65-year-old manager in the chemical industry who had recently moved to the area from Texas.

Brad had never been much of a baseball fan, but had gone to a Rays game on a whim earlier in the season and enjoyed himself. So on that Friday afternoon he went online to buy a single ticket in Section 120 and had just sat down in his seat after the national anthem when his heart stopped cold.

Atrial fibrillation was the cause, and it had arrived that evening with no warning. No pain in his left arm. No racing heart. No light-headed feeling. Just an electrical problem in his heart similar to turning off a light switch.

Janie had been around hospitals and medical offices much of her adult life, but had never attempted CPR. With the help of others, she got Brad gently sprawled in the aisle next to the Rays dugout and began chest compressions. By the time paramedics arrived, a weak pulse had returned.

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“It took me a good week to process everything that happened,” Janie said. “I’ve had people recognize me. I’ve had people call me a hero. It sounds crazy, you know, because I was just there and I knew what to do. But it turned out to be life-changing for me, too.”

The best gift of all

Janie Morales and Brad, at center, meet for a picture with a group of firefighters and paramedics moments after they were honored on Friday.
Janie Morales and Brad, at center, meet for a picture with a group of firefighters and paramedics moments after they were honored on Friday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The Rays invited Janie back to Friday night’s game against the Orioles to take part in a pregame ceremony along with St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue workers being honored for their life-saving efforts by Bayfront Health. Janie, 29, was presented with a Rays jersey, spent batting practice on the field with her son and parents, and was given the use of a suite for the evening. She was not, however, told that Brad would be there, too.

Janie was lined up on the field with the other honorees when she turned and audibly gasped as she saw Brad slowly making his way toward her. They embraced and quietly wept in each other’s arms while Brad gently kissed Janie’s cheek.

“My name is Janie,” she said, “I don’t even know your name.”

Later, they would meet up in the tunnel near the Rays clubhouse where Brad introduced Janie to his sister and they exchanged phone numbers. He explained that his only memory of the evening was the national anthem, then waking up in the hospital. One of his early clues to Janie’s role in his rescue was when he complained to nurses and doctors about a sharp pain beneath his heart.

“They kept saying, ‘Does this hurt? Does this hurt?’ I said, ‘No, but I’ve got this pain in my ribs,’ ” Brad said. “That’s when they said, ‘That’s how you know the person who saved you had medical training because they’re taught to keep pushing until they hear a cracking.’ They said, ‘The person must have done this many times.’ ”

“No,” Janie said. “You were my first.”

Could this night get any better?

Brad and Janie Morales, right, had not seen each other since that fateful night at the Trop on June 9.
Brad and Janie Morales, right, had not seen each other since that fateful night at the Trop on June 9. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Life may not be completely back to normal for Brad, but it’s pretty close. He’s still working, hoping to lose a little weight and is intrigued with the idea of more Rays games in his future. He’s also had a battery-operated defibrillator implanted in his chest to give his heart a jolt at the first sign of a repeat episode.

“If you’re not at a ballpark with good people, a good fire department and a stranger who decides to get involved, it could be lights out,” Brad said. “The whole (cardiac) industry revolves around someone with a bad valve, eats too much red meat, has cholesterol issues or something like that.

“This is different, there’s no warning. So it’s a little scarier. Lucky for me it happened at a game and the people here did a fantastic job saving me.”

Six weeks later, their introductions and goodbyes were both heartfelt and brief. Yandy Diaz led off the game with a single, and Brad and Janie were embracing for a final time. Brad had tickets in the Rays Club, and Janie and her family made their way to their suite.

In the middle of the fourth inning, the in-stadium cameras shifted to Janie’s suite where she presumably was going to do an interview about the importance of learning CPR. Instead, the host backed out of view and Janie’s boyfriend, Ken Frey, dropped to one knee to propose.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Frey had ordered an engagement ring the night before Janie’s rescue efforts at the Trop. The ring wasn’t to his liking and so he had to order another. By the time the second ring arrived, the Rays had arranged for the reunion at Tropicana Field, and Frey decided to add the proposal to the night’s festivities.

And, for the second time in a little more than an hour, Janie was reduced to tears.

“This is the best day of my life,” she said later. “This is incredible. I’m so in awe of what everyone has done.”

Turns out, the feeling is mutual.

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

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