Heart Attack Can't Keep Coach From the Game
“Well, as they say, ‘football is king in Texas,’" said coach Paul. “I love it. I can't imagine my life without it. But I almost had to imagine my life without it.”
On the evening of March 28, 2009, high school football coach Paul and his wife, Doenye were out shopping in their hometown of Deer Park, Texas. Suddenly Paul had trouble breathing.
“Just all of a sudden felt like the wind went out of me,” said Paul. “Felt like I had no energy. I had to sit down. My wife came by and asked "are you feeling okay?" and I said, "No, I don't feel real good."
Paul, only 48, knew the signs.
"I'm having a heart attack."
Doeyne rushed Paul to the nearest hospital. He flat-lined within minutes of being admitted.
“They removed me from the room and take me out and I literally go to my knees,” said Doeyne. “I drop because I've just watched my husband die.”
Unable to get a steady heartbeat, they transferred Paul to the cath lab where they discovered a blockage in his left coronary artery – also known as the widow maker.
Doeyne said, “I was helpless. I was totally helpless. I had already gone to the Lord in prayer I don't know how many times.”
After several failed attempts to clear the blockage, they had Paul flown across town to St. Luke’s Medical Center where a team of specialists – better equipped to perform the procedure – got to work. When Doeyne arrived Paul was still in surgery.
“Paul was in Jesus' hands. It wasn't up to me, it wasn't up to the doctors, it wasn't up to all those people there. There was one person that was in control and we all knew that. I knew that.”
She had gotten word out to family and friends and found a place to be alone and pray.
“I was telling God, "you have got to go to work in there, you have got to touch those doctors, you've got to touch those instruments, you've got to make everything come out right because I need my husband back.”
Finally doctors removed the blockage, restoring blood flow. Paul was placed on an ECMO machine to assist his heart and lungs. Even then, his vital organs had gone over an hour without oxygen and doctors had little hope for a good outcome.
Doeyne said, “If he survived this, to expect him to be in a wheelchair, possibly unable to hold his head up. Consider assisted living or home bound. Somebody would have to be with me 24 hours a day. If he survived this, my husband would not be my husband, he would not be the man that I used to know.”
As the night wore on, friends and family continued pouring into the already crowded waiting room to pray. By now a prayer chain was spreading throughout the Houston area.
“And during this whole ordeal, my prayers were not, "please Lord…" no, it was "Lord! you will do this. I demand that you hear my prayers." That's the only thing I could think of at the time.”
As Doeyne and others held their vigil, Paul started to improve. After five days, he was taken off the ECMO machine and put on a ventilator. Doeyne knew her prayers were being answered.
“I had one of his sisters say "Doenye, did you really talk to God like that?" And I said, ‘yes, I did,’ and it worked."
A week later Paul woke up.
“I see my beautiful wife looking at me and she’s smiling,’ said Paul.
"He was sitting there smiling at me,” Doenye said. “And I went over to him and I said, "are you okay?" He said "I'm going to be fine. I'm going to be fine."
Tests revealed Paul had no brain damage, but whether he would ever have the strength to return to coaching remained to be seen. For Paul, it was about much more than football.
“I said, "Lord, you're going to have to help me." I said, "I want to be able to dance at my grandbaby's wedding.”
“I got out of that bed to rehab not to coach football but for my family,” said Paul.
After a month of rehab, Paul learned that he wouldn’t be sidelined after all.
“We go see the doctor and the doctor releases me back at my own pace, no restrictions, I can coach again.”
By summer he landed a new head coaching job at Athens High School. In his first season, he took the Hornets to the playoffs that by all accounts was a miracle. But these days, Paul keeps it all in perspective.
“Nobody ever expected Athens to be in the 4th round of playoffs, okay. And it came together and nobody ever expected me to really be able to come back and coach,” said Paul. “And I know the good Lord had His hand in the entire thing.
And I tell everybody all the time, "I don't think He brought me back to win football games, I think He brought me back to share to my testimony. But I sure am glad He's letting me win a few.”