By Earl Vaughan Jr.
This time of year, our eyes turn to the heavens as we recall stories of a bright star that led three wise men to the manger where the baby Jesus was born.
But this Christmas, and in Christmases to come, Juliette Suh will be thinking of and thanking three people from Pinecrest High School, who brought her back to life and provided her and her family with a personal Christmas miracle.
It happened a few weeks ago at the first Sandhills Athletic Conference cross country meet of this COVID-19 plagued year.
Juliette and her Jack Britt High School teammates were running in a meet at the Pinecrest course, at the Elks Lodge in Southern Pines.
The finish line was only 10 or 20 yards in front of her when Juliette collapsed and fell to the ground.
Juliette, a senior, said she has no memory of what happened at the end of the race. Her last memories are of running about halfway through the 5-kilometer competition, then waking up in the hospital hours later.
Pinecrest assistant athletic trainer Morgan Krout arrived first, followed shortly by head athletic trainer Frank Sanchez and then wrestling coach Robert Curtin.
Unlike the two athletic trainers, Curtin didn’t have specific medical training, but he has some medical experience from his days in the military.
At first things didn’t look too serious. Sanchez said Juliette was making sounds and movements, but then everything went cold.
“You are never really prepared for the emotional aspect,’’ Sanchez said, adding this was the first time he had ever found himself in a genuine lifesaving situation.
He joined Curtin and Krout in putting their predetermined emergency action plan in place.
The team began with chest compressions, then brought in blankets to keep Juliette warm. Finally, the school’s portable automated external defibrillator, which was provided to all schools in the state by a grant from the N.C. High School Athletic Association, was brought in.
An ambulance crew arrived and took Juliette to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where medical workers prepared her for the helicopter ride to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
Juliette’s parents, S.I. and Michelle Suh, were unable to attend the meet because of COVID-19 limits on the crowd. Michelle, who works at Jack Britt, was informed by Britt principal Scott Pope. She and her husband finally arrived in Moore County around 5 p.m. and learned Juliette’s condition had worsened.
Their daughter’s condition threw normal family life into a turmoil. By 10 p.m. they were able to make it to Chapel Hill. It was 10:30 p.m. before they got an update on Juliette’s condition.
A doctor told them Juliette was on a ventilator but was able to respond to questions in writing.
“They said it was a miracle,’’ Michelle Suh said. “Those first responders did what they were supposed to do in the most perfect way. They couldn’t have done their job any better.’’
Michelle Suh said doctors are still uncertain exactly what caused Juliette’s collapse. All tests came back negative for any problems.
One set of results remain, a genetic test, to determine if there are underlying hereditary factors. Those results are still pending, Michelle Suh said.
Juliette spent eight days in the hospital in Chapel Hill. She eventually had a defibrillator with pacemaking capability placed in her chest.
Last week, Juliette and her family returned to the same Pinecrest course where she was stricken for a face-to-face meeting with the trio who saved her life.
“This was a miracle to me,’’ Juliette said. “I feel really grateful. And really lucky.’’
Michelle Suh said that what struck her most about the meeting was the humility that Curtin, Krout and Sanchez displayed.
“They were more about how strong and wonderful Juliette is,’’ she said. “I kept thinking as a parent how proud I would be to be their parent. They were wonderful.’’
Sanchez said getting to meet Juliette completed the circle and provided closure for everyone.
“She’s a very rambunctious, funny, talkative girl,’’ he said. “It’s nice to know she’s still here.’’
Sanchez wasn’t interested in taking any credit. “We’re part of an exclusive club we never wanted to be part of,’’ he said.
Curtin said it may be 15 or 20 years before any of them find themselves in a situation like the one they faced with Juliette but saving one life shows the importance of having trained people in place with the right equipment in case a need ever arises.
Like Sanchez, Curtin praised Juliette.
“The strength in this young lady is amazing to me,’’ he said. “Somebody wanted her to run more miles. Her time running on this earth was not over.’’