Jeff Ratanapool got about as close to death as you can get.
While playing basketball with some friends at Southeast Christian Church’s Sports & Fitness Center July 7, Ratanapool collapsed on the court, went into cardiac arrest and flatlined for about three minutes.
“I played the first game, and I hit two threes,” said Ratanapool, 51. “Then, I came off the court thinking this is the first time I’ve had trouble breathing. I sat on the bench, and I remember looking at the basketball hoop and thinking, ‘Man, I’m really dizzy.’ That’s the last thing I remember.”
Though Ratanapool doesn’t recollect the events that transpired after that, things got busy pretty quickly for everyone around him.
“I had no idea what had happened to me, but what unfolded in that next hour—as I’ve gone back and people have filled in the blanks—is nothing but amazing and God’s work,” Ratanapool added. “Had the event occurred anywhere but at the Sports & Fitness Center, I wouldn’t be here. I firmly believe the Lord ordered my steps and had the people here who were going to save my life that day.”
Ratanapool’s teammates had to act fast to keep him from having long-term brain damage. They frantically searched for a nurse or doctor and found Hilary Deskins, who used to be a nurse. She started doing chest compressions.
“She told me later, ‘I’ve not run that fast in years,’” Ratanapool said. “She hadn’t been in nursing for a couple years … and she said on the way to me she was praying to the Lord, ‘Please remind me of my skills and give me the strength to do this.’ She said I was starting to turn blue, I didn’t have a pulse and I wasn’t breathing.”
Deskins has small hands and Ratanapool is a big guy, so it was difficult for her to do chest compressions. She asked teammate Alex Norton to do them instead.
It had been Norton’s first time in the gym in 19 months.
An elderly woman started praying The Lord’s Prayer, and Ratanapool’s teammates circled around him and began praying as well.
Sports & Fitness Host JoAnn Ridge rushed onto the scene with a portable defibrillator and shocked Ratanapool. His heart began beating again, and he was stable until EMS arrived to take him to the hospital.
When Ratanapool regained consciousness an hour and a half later in the intensive care unit, the first question he asked was, “Did we win the game?”
The cardiologist told him he had a “widow-maker” heart attack because he had two blockages. Doctors performed angioplasty and put in three stints.
Though the stats weren’t in his favor, Ratanapool said God was on his side.
“My cardiologist said, ‘Do you know what the first sign of a heart attack is?’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Death.’ I said, ‘OK, well that’s not good,’” Ratanapool said. “He said, ‘Here’s how miraculous what you just survived is: 98% of people who have the widow-maker outside of a controlled environment don’t survive. Of the 2% that do survive, over 90% have brain damage.’”
Ratanapool has played full-court basketball games regularly since 2005, but he stopped in 2019 when gyms closed due to COVID.
“I had gained a bunch of weight, so my wife said, ‘You need to get back into the gym,’” Ratanapool added.
Ratanapool played basketball for about a month and even pressure-washed his deck and played 18 holes of golf over July Fourth weekend before being blindsided on July 7.
Ratanapool has made a full recovery since his heart attack, and he is more serious about his health.
“I’m 30 pounds lighter. I’m in the best shape of my life, other than my 20s when I played competitive football and baseball in college,” he said. “We all think we’re invincible, but you’ve got to take care of yourself.”
Filled with a mixed bag of nerves and excitement, Ratanapool returned to the Sports & Fitness Center for some pickup basketball games Sept. 22.
“It was a full circle thing for me. The last time I was here, I was laying on a stretcher. I couldn’t even walk out. It was 69 days exactly I was back on the court. It’s an unbelievable blessing,” Ratanapool said. “I wanted to thank everyone for saving my life. It’s been about the thanks to Him for all of the ways in which He aligned everything for me to still be here.”
Ratanapool said he’s excited for his next chapter in life and how God will use him.
“I listened to a podcast that said, ‘A man learns to appreciate life more when he comes close to losing it.’ I already felt good with my life. People ask me, ‘Did what happened to you make you believe more in the Lord?’ My answer to that is, ‘I already had faith in Him and I already know how good He is. He’s shown up in times in my life that you can’t explain,’” he said. “I didn’t question it in anyway, but now I know that the Lord has plans for my life, and I’m trying to figure out what those are right now because I was delivered from certain death. There’s no two questions about it.”