WASECA — Brad Wendland was feeling a little lightheaded near the end of Waseca’s football game Friday, so he took off his head set and went to a knee for the final plays.
He remembers waking up some time later, hoping to give a postgame speech to his football team. What he didn’t know at that time was that his heart had stopped. Only because of the quick actions of athletic trainers, a nurse that was in the crowd and local paramedics was he able to take a phone call from his hospital room in Mankato on Saturday.
“I’m just really lucky,” Wendland, the head coach of the Bluejays, said. “There were some amazing people there, and for that reason, I’m still around.”
With 31 seconds to play in Waseca’s season-opener against St. Peter on Friday, Wendland, 48, collapsed on the sidelines. Medical personnel from both teams attended to Wendland until paramedics arrived, and after about 45 minutes of chest compressions and a shot from a defibrillator, he came to, feeling fine, other than some soreness in his chest from the CPR.
“I said, ‘I want to get up,’ and a friend of mine said ‘no,’” Wendland recounted Saturday. “I said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ but then I saw the ambulance and realized what had just happened.
“I just wanted to find (my wife) Kim,” he said, his voice cracking.
Wendland said he remembers everything about the ambulance ride to Mankato, hearing the paramedics say his vital signs were good.
“I went from (cardiac) arrest to being fully aware and feeling fine, which I guess is pretty unusual,” he said.
Waseca activities director Joe Hedervare was in the press box, tending to game-day operations, when he saw what was unfolding. He took off for the field, calling 911 on the way.
“I’m so grateful that (paramedics) are basically right across the street from the school,” he said. “The reaction time was unbelievable. We go through training to get ready for this type of situation because you never know when it’s going to be your turn. It was our turn (Friday). We saved a life.”
The Bluejays were leading 21-13 when Wendland collapsed. After the 40-minute delay, the Waseca players said they wanted to finish the game for their coach. St. Peter tried a couple of passes, and the game ended.
Wendland, who has been the football coach at Waseca for 16 seasons, met with doctors late Friday night, hoping he would get to go home, but he was told he would be staying for most of this week, going through several tests to determine what went wrong. He has a hereditary condition involving a heart valve, but he was told that had nothing to do with Friday’s collapse. He will have a silver-dollar-sized defibrillator implanted in his chest that might stop this from happening again.
“I kind of complained when they told me I couldn’t go home,” Wendland said. “The doctors said, ‘Do you realize how many people survive cardiac arrest if they’re not in the hospital?’ I said, ‘Half?’ They said it was less than 1 percent.”
Wendland said he will take the rest of the month off from teaching, and he’s likely done coaching for this season.
“I really want to go back to the classroom because I love teaching,” Wendland said. “I’m right where I need to be. I just need some time for self-reflection.”
Because the Minnesota State High School League requires that a head coach be certified, Hedervare said he will likely become the head coach. He said that current staff will continue in their roles, with someone taking over play-calling duties, which Wendland handled.
Waseca is scheduled to play at Marshall on Friday.
“I’m so thankful everything worked out,” Hedervare said. “It sounds weird to say we’re grateful that it happened where it did. If he had been home alone, who knows? Thankfully, Brad is still with us.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.