“It was just a normal football practice,” coach Todd Koehn said. “We were running some drills like usual and all of a sudden I noticed Brandon had fallen and was not getting up. I rushed over to him and quickly realized that he wasn’t breathing.”
As athletic trainer Melissa Rice rushed to Bennett’s side, Koehn called 911 with thoughts of the worst running through his head.
“We were doing some drills like normal when I went head-to-head with senior Kirtis Murphy,” junior Brandon Bennett said. “I felt dizzy and tried to call out to Kirtis for help, but he couldn’t hear me. That’s when I fell, face first. I remember a bunch of people beginning to gather around me and that’s when I stopped breathing.”
Because Bennett was unconscious and unable to breath, Rice began to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, otherwise known as CPR.
“We were all pretty scared,” senior Pedro Espinosa said. “We didn’t really know what was going on and if he was going to be okay or not.”
After a short time, Bennett took a gasping breath and opened his eyes.Not long after that, though, he once again stopped breathing and Rice had to continue CPR until the paramedics arrived.
“Out of the thirteen years that I have worked here, this is probably the scariest event.” Rice said. “I feel like this was a part of divine intervention. Bennett’s brother had dropped off his practice jersey and I went down to the field to give it to him. When I spotted him, they were in the middle of a drill so I was already watching him. I then saw him get hit and was already watching him when he went down, so I knew exactly what happened.”
Bennett is aware of just how much Rice did for him that day.
“Sometimes I sit and think about what could have been or what should have been if Mrs. Melissa was not down at the field,” Bennett said. “She is my guardian angel, and I’m alive today because one woman did not hesitate, but reacted. Mrs. Melissa rose to an obstacle she probably never knew she would face, and that’s why she’s my hero. I owe her my life.”
Rice is grateful for the assistance she received from everyone on the field that day.
“Everyone did a great job,” Rice said. “It was a team effort.”
The ambulance took Bennett to Pontiac Hospital.
“I had several blood tests done,” Bennett said, “and had to stay there for a week before everything was back to normal.”
Almost a month later, Bennett was not feeling well after school. With a fever over 103 degrees, he was shaking and had an odd rash covering his body. He immediately went to see Rice, who comforted and talked to him until the ambulance arrived.
It turned out that he had a blood infection, inflamed ear, and had to stay at the hospital overnight. As of right now, Bennett’s football career is over.
Recently, the football team honored Rice for her heroism, surprising her with a Pandora bracelet at a pasta party.
“I was in my office and Andrew Ackerman came down and insisted that I eat with them,” Rice said. “It was so touching and heartfelt. Although I have no kids of my own, that night I felt like I had fifty.”
Brandon’s entire letter to Melissa Rice follows:
An open letter to my hero
To describe what happened in words is tough, but to start, being one of the smallest athletes in Utica, I know I have to be careful. Sometimes I sit and think about what could have been or what should have been if Mrs. Melissa was not down at the field.
Most people think that athletic trainers are just for wrapping up a bruise, putting ice on a sore sport, or taping up a player before a game. But Mrs. Melissa is more than that. She doesn’t just come to work, do her normal routine, and leave. She stays after; she asks how you’re doing or feeling, even when she doesn’t have to. Mrs. Melissa cares about the athletes of Utica High, and even the ones that don’t attend our school. Not only does she care for athletes, but she cares for non-athletes as well.
Mrs. Melissa didn’t just save my life; she gave me life back. She made me realize that there is some reason why I’m here alive today.
In the last two months I have been rushed to the hospital twice from Utica High, and Mrs. Rice rescued me both times. She is my guardian angel. She’s the reason (along with the grace of God) I am able to use my feet, arms and legs. I am here today because one woman did not hesitate, but reacted. Mrs. Melissa Rice rose to an obstacle she probably never knew she would face, and that is why she is my hero and I owe her my life. Thank you, Mrs. Melissa!