Students and staff at Christ the King College Prep this week are mourning the loss of freshman student Jermaine Cullum, 16, who died Tuesday just three days after collapsing during a basketball tournament game in Riverside on Saturday.
The school is also extending its "thoughts and prayers" to Cullum's family, said the school's president, Clement Martin, in a statement released by the school late Wednesday. Grief counselors and ministers are at the school this week to help students and staff. The school is also planning to honor Cullum in the coming days.
"Jermaine had a warm presence in the Christ the King Jesuit hallways and on the court," Martin said. "He was a well-liked and respected young man with a contagious smile. He was a phenomenal kid, with a great sense of humor and strong faith, who shared his kindness with his classmates and teammates. He will be missed by all."
Cullum collapsed while playing basketball in a tournament at Riverside-Brookfield High School on May 3.
According to a spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner, Cullum died at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6 at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.
Cullum had just made a layup when he crumpled to the floor of the RBHS fieldhouse, where he was participating in the Team Rose AAU Shootout.
An emergency room doctor and a nurse who happened to be at the tournament were the first ones to give aid to the boy, who was in cardiac arrest, and worked with paramedics to keep him alive. He was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in critical condition and was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.
Cullum remained in critical condition Monday.
But the boy's life was temporarily saved by a series of fortunate turns — including the presence of a nurse and an emergency room doctor who happened to be in the building, as well as the quick response by Riverside paramedics. Teamwork in the form of police and fire personnel from Riverside and the Brookfield Zoo, who assisted and helped escort the ambulance down First Avenue to Loyola University Medical Center, also aided in helping the boy.
"Everything fell into place," said Riverside Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Buckley, who had just returned home from his daughter's First Communion ceremony when the emergency call came in at about 1 p.m. on May 3.
"We all help each other out and work well together," Buckley said of local police and paramedics. "Every second counts. Literally."
Melody Burrell, a nurse for more than 10 years, accompanied her son to the Team Rose AAU Shootout at RBHS on Saturday. They were watching the game while waiting for her son's next opponent when a 16-year-old player, who attends Christ the King College Prep High School in Chicago, collapsed and began convulsing.
Burrell immediately ran to aid the boy.
"I work in a field where the unexpected can happen, so I'm trained to jump in," said Burrell, who works at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. "I experience this with mostly older adults. Mostly motherly instinct kicked in."
Moments later, Dr. Maurice Binns, an emergency room doctor at CGH Medical Center in Sterling, appeared at Burrell's side. He was with his wife at the concession stand when someone ran out of the fieldhouse calling for paramedics, saying someone had a seizure.
"I realized he was not breathing properly and had no pulse," said Binns, who knew the boy wasn't having a seizure. He was in cardiac arrest.
"I'm trained to help people and I'm more than happy to do so," said Binns. "My wife made sure I heard the message and answered the bell."
Paramedics and Buckley arrived almost simultaneously and worked hand-in-hand with Binns and Burrell. They deployed a defibrillator and medication to try to steady the boy's heartbeat, and Binns inserted a breathing tube to get him some oxygen, pumping air into his lungs by hand.
"We worked together as a team," Binns said of Riverside's emergency responders. "Those guys were excellent. The whole town responded and did great."
Binns accompanied the boy to the hospital in the ambulance. Only after they arrived at Loyola did the pediatric intensive care unit physicians get the boy's heart back into a normal rhythm.
"Either there was a structural defect with the heart, or it's a normal-appearing heart with the circuits being dysfunctional," said Binns of what may have caused the erratic rhythm.
Burrell said she went to the hospital Saturday and met the boy's father.
"I wanted to reach out and be supportive," she said.
She also talked to the boy's mother on Sunday by phone.
"She said the prognosis was very bright," said Burrell. "That was very good to hear."