For Joey Spann, Feb. 25, 2011, was a night he and many others won’t ever forget.
A month after his halftime collapse at the scorer’s table at David Lipscomb High School’s gymnasium and subsequent quadruple bypass surgery, the Goodpasture Christian girls coach appears to be on his way to complete recovery.
Speaking at his home in Antioch last week, Spann recalled the events of that evening, praised those who rushed to his rescue and thanked the literally hundreds of visitors he received at Vanderbilt Hospital.
“It was the perfect storm in that the people rushed to my side, they knew exactly what to do, and it went as smooth as glass,’’ Spann said. “If it had been in another gym, I might have died.”
Fans watched in disbelief at a nightmarish scene at the AA sectional game that night. It was something none would forget — least of all Spann, himself.
“I felt a little bit of chest pains during the first half,” the 58-yer-old recalled. “Then at halftime, I remember passing by [Lipscomb coaches] Ernie Smith and David Carter, patting them on the shoulders as we passed by.
“As I came to the scorers table, I remember falling backwards, hitting my head and passing out. They rushed over and put the defibrillator on me, shocked me once and restored my heartbeat, then they drove me to Vanderbilt Hospital.”
“He had stopped breathing, but his heart was still beating,” his wife Peggy said. “They did a wonderful job at Lipscomb. If it had been somewhere else without all the right personnel there, Joey might not have made it.”
Ever the coach, he said, smiling, “We were leading them 14-12 when I left, even though it was pretty ugly.”
After consultation with school officials, the game resumed the following Sunday afternoon and Lipscomb went on to win 51-37. Signs were changed from “Beat the Cougars” to “We love you, Coach Spann.”
“It was not a heart attack, it was cardiac arrest,” Spann said. “They underwent the [four bypass] surgery the following morning. I also had an aneurism, which wouldn’t have been discovered if this hadn’t have happened, and that turned out to be not serious.
“The doctors told me that 95 percent of the people that experienced what I did would have died right away. They said of the other five percent, some would have died on the way to the hospital. I was one of the lucky few. They told me I had a really strong heart, one of a 16-year-old.”
It was not long after the procedure at that the visits started.
“It was astounding,” he said. “They had to shut down the waiting room and relocate people into another area. There were over 100 visitors at one point. They were packed in there like sardines. They sent them into my room two by two.
“One of the nurses asked me if I was a rock star, and I said, ‘No ma’am, I’m just a basketball coach.’ It was like I was alive at my own funeral, with the visits I had from all the people I’ve known over the years coming to see me.”
Many were current or former Goodpasture players. Others were from former players at Ezell-Harding, where Spann coached for 14 years before he took the Goodpasture job in July, 2008. His time at Ezell included a state championship in 2002 and a 58-game district winning streak.
“Tara Deatheridge, who played for me at Ezell, told me, ‘I knew you would make it, there’s no way you were going to go down at Ernie’s feet.’”
Then Spann added with a laugh, “It’s hard to for me to admit that I owe my life to so many Lipscomb people.”
Spann and Peggy guessed the number of get-well cards to be well over 200.
He was released from the hospital the Friday following the surgery after and since has mostly been confined to his home. He is rehabbing at Vanderbilt three times a week. He still isn’t allowed to drive.
Spann returned to Lipscomb High last Friday where he spoke at the school’s chapel program. An ordained preacher, Spann still has his classes at nearby Burnette Chapel.
But for the next few weeks, his focus will be on walking for exercise and improving his eating habits.
“I’m really watching what I eat, no more fried foods,” he said.
“We want to thank everybody for their support they’ve given to Joey,” Peggy said. “It’s overwhelming, the outpouring of love. We cannot thank all the people enough.”
“I am so fortunate. I’m a Christian, and I felt the hand of God touching me,” said Spann, who also thanked the support of his children Kelli, 32, and Michael, 26.
And — the obvious question. Will Joey Spann coach again?
“That’s my plan,” he said. “I’ll take it easy for a while. Then, I’m planning on taking my girls to summer camp in July, then be ready to go by next season.”
A whole lot of people are rooting for him.