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Pitman senior receives best Christmas present – a heartbeat

Pitman Senior receives Christmas Present

Jake Zylstra, center, and the Pitman High School basketball team are pictured Dec. 2 at the Modesto City Schools Tournament, the day after Jake was released from UCSF. Photo courtesy of Judy Marable

Jake Zylstra never will enjoy a more meaningful Christmas.

He’s already received the best possible gift – a still-beating heart.

Surgeons placed a pulse-assisting defibrillator in the chest of Zylstra, a Pitman High senior, on Thursday. Returning to class for the spring semester is possible, and so is graduation with his class next spring.

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Zylstra said. “One day can affect the next few months or the rest of your life.”

Zylstra’s heart stopped beating during the first day of basketball season Nov. 7. He suffered ventricular fibrillation, the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance, 15 minutes into the opening practice. He had about a 1-in-10 chance to survive.

But Zylstra has survived, though his collapse on the court triggered a series of events a fiction writer couldn’t have imagined.

“A miracle happened,” Pitman coach Harvey Marable said.

“I just know it was God-ordained,” his wife, Judy Marable, said.

Both were first-responders, along with Turlock Fire Department paramedics, in the saving of a life.

Harvey Marable describes the 6-foot-4 Zylstra as “a gentle giant.”

“He’s quiet, not very loud,” Marable said. “He carries himself in a nice and courteous manner. He’s like that all the time. He listens and he works hard.”

Zylstra, who had not played basketball for Pitman, decided to try out for the team as a senior. It wasn’t a frivolous choice. He practiced with the team over the summer and looked forward to his days with the Pride.

Team prospects lifted weights, then adjourned to the court on Nov. 7. About 100 players separated onto the freshman, JV and varsity teams, with the varsity working out in the middle of the Pride’s large gym.

The drill is called “rapid response,” a reflex enhancer as players quickly jump back and forth over a line in 15-second bursts. Zylstra had begun his second rep when he was stricken.

He has no memories of the event, but he was told that teammate Dominick Von Waaden – a friend of his – caught him as his knees gave way.

Within seconds, Harvey and Judy Marable rushed to Zylstra’s assistance. Judy’s presence at the gym only can be described as a bow from Dame Fate.

Harvey had forgotten the rim-reducer, a tool attached to the rim to refine shotmaking, at home. Judy had arrived with the rim-reducer when Zylstra fell.

“I’m thankful for how forgetful I am,” Harvey said.

Judy, a physical therapist, had completed her CPR training – a requirement every two years for her job – only four days before. That soon became very handy.

The gym was cleared as the Marables, detecting no pulse or breathing, began CPR on Zylstra. Harvey applied mouth-to-mouth while Judy thumped Zylstra’s chest. The teenager was unconscious despite occasional gasping or coughing in what is called agonal respiration.

“His color was not good. I’ve never seen a kid go through cardiac arrest,” Judy said. “It was scary, but I knew what I had to do.”

The paramedics, called the “Pit Crew,” arrived at Pitman minutes later and delivered cardioversion through the shock paddles. They continued the process en route to Emanuel Medical Center and in the emergency room. Zylstra eventually regained a pulse. The Marables’ work, however, was critical.

“We just kept going,” Judy said. “One of the fire department people said you double or triple the chances for survival if you keep going with the compressions before the paramedics get there.”

When Zylstra regained consciousness, he had one clear-cut wish: “I wanted to go home.”

Zylstra’s recovery could have gone better. He was on dialysis due to kidney problems during his stay at Emanuel and later at the UCSF Medical Center where he had been transferred.

The day after he returned home, Zylstra surprised his friends by attending Pitman’s game against Enochs at the Modesto City Schools Tournament on Dec. 2. The team showered him with teary-eyed hugs, then beat Enochs 58-45.

Zylstra’s ordeal runs counter to the I’ll-live-forever posture of most 18-year-olds. Simply, he was force-fed a dose of real life.

“You don’t have as much time (to live) as you think,” he said.


To financially help Zylstra’s recovery, visit gofundme.com/jz-strong.

Story Courtesy of ModBee Sports by Ron Agostini: 209-578-2302, @ModBeeSports

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/sports/article122874264.html#storylink=cpy