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Teen basketball star collapses on court, gets new lease on life

The Baltimore teen describes the moment as “God putting his hand down and saying, ‘I’m not going to take you right now.’”

WASHINGTON — Basketball was Tairik Johnson’s life until his life almost ended.

Now, the 17-year-old Baltimore youth is looking for a new path. And he has the chance to do so thanks to nearly a dozen people who did the right things at just the right time to save his life.

“I’m a believer in God,” Johnson said. He refers to the events of March 31 as “God putting his hand down and saying, ‘I’m not going to take you right now.’”

That was the day that he collapsed in the middle of a game at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, Maryland.

He had gone into cardiac arrest due to a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, what happens if the heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricle to thicken, which can block blood flow out of the ventricle. The American Heart Association said it was “a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including young athletes.”

Johnson’s father, Jermaine, saw his son collapse. He immediately got to his side, recognized what was happening, and started CPR. Fairfax County, Virginia firefighter and medic Paul Beasley, who was in the stands, also came to help.

Meanwhile,  Linda Henson-Hubb, Gwynn Park’s athletic director, dashed to grab the school’s AED — automatic external defibrillator.

“The device was where it belonged,” said Kenya Johnson, Tairik’s mother. “It wasn’t locked away and somebody else had the key. It was a situation where everything fell in place.”

“From the time that my son lost his heartbeat to the time that he was resuscitated was under one minute,” Kenya Johnson said.

On Friday, Tairik Johnson, his mother and his grandmother thanked Prince George’s County Fire and EMS, and called for more AEDs in more public places. Chief Marc Bashoor said the incident was a “100 percent success story.”

“Tairik did survive … because of the folks sitting in front of us — and the decisions they make every day,” Bashoor said.

Tairik Johnson said he’s considering new careers now that he knows he won’t be pursuing basketball. A junior at Baltimore’s St. Francis Academy, he was fielding basketball scholarship offers from at least seven Division 1 colleges.

“I’m on to the next thing now,” he said. “I’m looking to get into college on an academic scholarship.”

But basketball may not be completely over. A couple of schools that were courting him are offering him scholarships to come aboard as the team manager. And his illness has inspired a new path.

“I think I want to major in radiology – become an X-Ray technician — and then one day, hopefully, create a foundation to raise awareness for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” Tairik Johnson said.