On Nov. 1, 66-year-old Henderson County Senior League Softball player Bill Curtis suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died … four times.
Bill Curtis the Survivor with Tom Hendley and Ed Neace the Saviours
Thanks to the quick response of his fellow players, Tom Hendley and Ed Neace, and the fact that the league recently purchased a defibrillator to take to its games, Curtis is alive and well and able to tell his story.
“I remember reaching second base. After that, the next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital four days later,” said Curtis, who prior to the event had never had any health problems and had never been hospitalized.
Bill’s wife, Nancy, was at his bedside when he awoke.
“The first thing he said when he woke up was that he remembered hitting the ball hard over Ed’s head in the outfield and how mad Ed was,” Nancy Curtis said.
After Bill Curtis hit his double, the next batter hit a ball to the outfield to Neace.
“There were two outs, so Bill was running from second to third. Then he took off for home, hoping I’d miss the ball,” Neace, 63, said. “I caught it. I was coming in from the outfield when I saw it happen.”
Neace said Bill Curtis stumbled a little and then went head first into the fence.
“I didn’t realize it at the time. I was running back to the dugout from the field, then I saw someone lying down on the ground. I said, ‘Who’s down? Who’s down?’ Then I saw it was Bill. I rushed over to him and Tom was already there,” Neace said. “He said, ‘Call 911. He’s not responding.”
Just a few weeks before Bill Curtis’ cardiac arrest, several of the Henderson County Senior League softballers had participated in a CPR training class conducted by Dan Hayes of the EMS. Hendley, the Senior League’s president, had suggested the class for his fellow players and also suggested that they purchase a defibrillator to have at all their games.
“We had the training about 4-5 weeks earlier, and praise the Lord we had that training,” Neace said.
Hendley, 66, a retired police officer from New Jersey, was the first to see Bill Curtis go down.
“I went to him and turned him over, and he had a gash on his head where he had hit the fence,” Hendley said. “So I didn’t know if he had just tripped and hit the fence and that was his problem or if the problem had happened before that. When I saw that he was unresponsive, I knew the problem happened before he hit the fence.”
Without hesitation, Hendley and Neace put their training into action.
“So then I opened up his airway and tried to help him to breathe, and then I saw his eyes roll back, I knew we had lost him,” Hendley said.
Hendley immediately got the defibrillator and hooked Bill Curtis to it.
“The machine takes a few seconds to analyze, and it will tell you whether or not a shock is needed. When I hooked Bill up to it, it said ‘shock advised,’ so we shocked him. His body went clean off the ground, and we all stood back,” Hendley said. “It’s quite a jolt.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t remember that,” Bill Curtis laughed.
After Hendley felt a faint pulse from the shock of the defribillator, he was trying to get Bill Curtis to breathe while Neace did chest compressions.
“We were both focused and working so feverishly to help Bill that we didn’t even notice the EMS guys arrive,” Hendley said.
“I was doing the chest compressions when I got tapped on the shoulder. It was the EMS guy, and I kept working and said, ‘Hang on, I’m still working on him.’ After the EMS guy took over, I had a sigh of relief,” Neace said.
“We were so into what we were doing, we didn’t know how much time had passed,” Hendley said.
“I know it wasn’t long before the EMS guys were there, but from the time he went down to the time they arrived, it seemed like an eternity. Everything was like in slow motion,” Neace said.
When EMS did take over CPR, Bill Curtis went into cardiac arrest again.
“The EMS guys got there and worked on him and then had to shock him again,” Hendley said. “Then they got him on the ambulance and took him to Pardee (Hospital).”
Bill Curtis’ nightmare wasn’t over yet. His heart stopped twice more in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
“They said he died four times … twice on the field and twice in the ambulance,” Neace said.
“That means he has five lives left,” Nancy Curtis said.
Once he was revived and doctors performed tests on him in the ICU, there was great news.
“The doctors said there was no heart or brain damage,” Neace said.
“The doctors said they were expecting to find some kind of blockage in the arteries and they were fully expecting to have to do heart surgery. They found nothing. They said I had a healthy heart, and they still have no clue why it stopped that day,” Bill Curtis said.
There were no warning signs for Bill Curtis, and on his official discharge papers from the hospital, the diagnosis was “sudden cardiac death.”
“They say there’s only like a 6 percent chance of surviving that,” Bill Curtis said.
Nancy Curtis remembers the call and was preparing for the worst when she made her way to Jackson Park that day.
“What’s strange is that Bill and I had talked just the night before about what would we do if something happened to one of us. We’ve been together 45 years, and being together with someone that long, I truly believe you get a sixth sense about someone. It was like we knew something was about to happen,” she said.
Bill Curtis is getting used to his new lifestyle after the event. Now, he has a device that will shock his heart, along with a pacemaker to regulate it, if cardiac arrest happens again.
One thing he’s having a hard time adjusting to is the fact that he can’t drive.
“I guess the law is that if you die, you aren’t allowed to drive for six months,” Nancy Curtis said.
But he will be allowed to get back on the field in just six weeks.
“That’s incredible when you think about it and when you witnessed what we did that day,” Neace said. “But if you knew what kind of a person Bill is, it wouldn’t really surprise you. He runs three miles a day, and he’s in better shape than most anyone on that field. He was the last person in the world I thought that would happen to.”
Bill Curtis has already been back to the field, cheering on his fellow players, but he’s itching to get the bat in his hands once again.
“He’s a great player, and we can’t wait to get him back,” Hendley said.
And Bill’s wife isn’t about to hold him back from the sport he loves.
“I truly believe that if Bill would’ve been home with me that day, and I live just a quarter-mile from Mission Hospital, he would be dead or brain damaged. It would’ve taken too long for trained help to arrive,” she said.
“For women worried about their men playing softball, let me say this: There is no safer place for your man to be than at Jackson Park on any Tuesday or Friday if it doesn’t rain or snow.”