Archdeacon: Heart transplant gives high school senior ‘a burst of hope’

CINCINNATI — It was first day of track practice at Stebbins High School and Ebonie Sherwood was stoked.

She’s one of the most popular students in the school and certainly one of the best-known athletes.

Although she played four years of football for the Indians and just finished another girls varsity basketball season, it’s with track that she’s really made her mark.

This year she’s a senior captain of the team. Two years ago she was named Stebbins’ most valuable female track athlete.

Next year she was headed to Tiffin University, where she’d compete in field events for the Dragons’ track team.

But on March 7 she couldn’t wait for the school day to end and track practice to begin.

Her first class of the day — computer technology — was taught by her track coach, Eric Spahr.

“He said she came in and was just as happy as she could be,” Beverly Sherwood, Ebonie’s mom, said. “She was so excited track was starting.”

Beverly said before practice started Ebonie told everyone she’d lead the stretching exercises. And once workouts began, “She was with them, running, encouraging kids and telling the young ones, ‘Don’t give up! Just get through this week. It’s the hardest week.’”

But then, at the end of practice, Beverly said Ebonie told her coach: “I don’t feel good. I’ve got to go inside.”

She went to the training room, which was manned by Kettering Health athletic trainers, Emily Martz and Alex Brummett.

Beverly was at work — she’s a financial specialist at the Miami Township offices on Lyons Road — when they called her.

The pair knows Beverly well. She’s the unofficial photographer of Stebbins’ athletic teams and is on the sidelines at many events. Called “Mama Bev” by many athletes, she’s known to have snacks and beef jerky on hand for anyone who’s hungry.

“(The trainers) told me, ‘Ebonie isn’t feeling good. You might want to come pick her up and not let her drive home,’” Beverly remembered. “I told then ‘I’m on the way.’”

Right after that call, Ebonie suddenly collapsed in Martz’s arms. Brummett helped lower her to the floor and by then she had no pulse.

“Alex began chest compressions on her right away,” Beverly said. “And Emily got the AED machine and used that.”

For the uninitiated, that’s an Automated External Defibrillator.

“The easiest way to describe it is that it’s like those TV doctor shows where they rub the paddles together and say ‘Clear!’ and then put them on the person,” Martz said. “That’s what this is, but in a portable setting.”

Martz, who has been at Stebbins the past four years, said the only other time she used an AED on an athlete was at University High School in Normal, Illinois.

“We were able to save that boy’s life,” she said softly.

This time was especially wrenching because she knows Ebonie so well — not only as a multisport athlete, but for the way people are drawn to her warm, outgoing personality:

“She’s just an amazing human being. She, and her mom, too, they’re the kind of people who would give you the shirt off their backs.”

Beverly said Martz and Brummett called her back as they awaited the arrival of the Riverside EMS units:

“They told me Ebonie had passed out and that the squad was on the way. They wanted to know what hospital I wanted her to go to.

“I was trying to get up I-75 and it was rush hour and I was in panic mode.

“I couldn’t believe it. Ebonie was so fit. So vibrant. So healthy.”

Beverly said her 18-year-old daughter is her only child and her “best friend.”

She said she gave birth to her when she was just 19 and, in some ways, they had grown up together.

All that compounded the fear as her daughter was rushed to Dayton Children’s Hospital.

Just two months earlier, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a heart attack on the field at Paycor Stadium during a Monday Night Football game against the host Cincinnati Bengals.

The quick actions of athletic trainers that night resuscitated him on the field and he survived. That high-profile incident got worldwide attention and the trainers were hailed as heroes.

This was similar, except that Ebonie’s condition proved much more serious than Hamlin’s.

Doctors discovered she had suffered a “widow maker” heart attack, which comes when there’s blockage in the biggest artery of the heart

“Emily and Alex are heroes,” Beverly said. “If they weren’t there, she would not have survived. Our trainers, literally, saved her life.”

But even then, Ebonie’s life hung by a thread.

After spending the night at Dayton Children’s, she was taken by CareFlight to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. On a ventilator and an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine that allows the heart and lungs to rest, she soon was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Back at Stebbins, shock waves went through the student body. Many athletes had been out on the practice fields when the rescue squads pulled in.

“I was just getting out of baseball practice and was headed to the trainers’ room myself,” said Noah Schneck. He’s the Indians first baseman, was a heavyweight wrestler and the center on the football team.

He is Ebonie’s friend.

“I saw the ambulances pull in and then go out again and I wondered what happened,” he said. “And when I heard it was Ebonie, it was really a shock.

“One moment you’re talking to her and the next she’s carried out in an ambulance.”

Bailey Hatton, one of Ebonie’s closest friends, was at a softball scrimmage.

When she learned they had rushed Ebonie to the hospital, it triggered bad memories. In the past few years, she said she lost two friends who were hospitalized — one from leukemia, another from injuries in an auto accident.

Amy Priest said Ebonie launched their friendship:

“My first day at Mad River (Middle School) she walked straight up to me at the bus stop and started taking to me. She was the first person in the school district to ever talk to me and we’ve just gotten closer and closer since.

“I got a text about what happened and it really upset me. I didn’t go to school the next day.”

The worry was warranted.

During her first 10 days in Cincinnati, Ebonie’s heart didn’t respond to treatment and last Saturday, March 18, it was decided she needed a heart transplant to have hope of surviving.

On March 20, she underwent a 12-hour transplant surgery performed by Dr. Louis B. Louis, the director of cardiac surgery at UC Medical Center.

The marathon venture ended in the wee hours of March 21. With Beverly in the waiting room was Stebbins football coach Greg Bonifay and wrestling coach and football assistant, Nick Lofty.

Some 38 hours later, Beverly — wearing a red Stebbins sweatshirt and, at times, the mantle of uncertainty — met with me in a small room off the lobby of the UC Medical Center and talked about how her daughter’s life has gone from success on the Stebbins’ athletic fields and courts to a battle of survival in the cardiovascular ICU.

“When Ebonie wakes up, she’s confused sometimes and kind of nervous, so I try to tell her just little bits of what has happened,” Beverly said. “I don’t want to tell her too much at once and overwhelm her.

“At first, she was really emotional because she had been healthy her entire life. It’s just such a big thing to have happen to you. It’s just so much to take in.”

‘A great all-around person’

Beverly has not been home since she was driven to Cincinnati by Bonifay and Martz. She stays in the Ronald McDonald House and spends each day at her daughter’s bedside.

They’ve always been side by side through life’s ups and downs. With the help of her mom, Tammy Wheeler, Beverly raised Ebonie as a single parent.

Her daughter’s father has had no part in raising or supporting Ebonie and they’ve never met.

“It was tough,” Beverly said. “I was so young when I had her and I learned to be a mom while I still was growing up, too.

“My mom helped me. She was a great role model. And my family was there, too.”

Beverly showed me a photo of Ebonie on her first day of kindergarten. She’s wearing a pastel blue and green sundress, white shoes and a little girl smile. In her right hand, she clutches her pink Barbie lunch box.

“She was so excited that day,” Beverly remembered. “She couldn’t wait to get to school.”

That love stayed with her all the way to Stebbins, where she has blossomed.

She’s a 3.5 GPA student her mom said and “she’s in everything.”

A member of the Stebbins Student Senate, she’s the student body vice president. She’s a member of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJRTC), is on the lighting crew for stage productions at the school and is a peer mentor.

A wide receiver and defensive end on the football team, she played on the junior varsity through her junior year and then saw varsity action, mostly on special teams, this past season.

“She’s the epitome of what coaches want on their team,” Bonifay said. “I’ve never met a better teammate. She’ll do anything for anybody on the team and they’d do the same for her. She calls all the guys her brothers.

“She’s one of, if not the, most determined individuals we have. She works hard in the weight room, the same way she does on the basketball court and in the classroom.

“She’s won our Coach’s Award the past two seasons. The way I see it, it’s one of the most prestigious awards we give. She’s just a great all-around person.”

Away from the athletic fields, she’s no different.

“She’s just a sweet girl,” Amy Priest said.

“One of the kindest, most warm-hearted people I know,” added Bailey Hatton. “And she always has your back.”

Bonifay was instrumental in getting Ebonie to Tiffin, where along with competing as a track athlete, she was going to help coach football as student assistant this fall.

“She knows more football than a lot of the kids we have in our program,” he said. “Her going to Tiffin wasn’t some kind of gift. She deserves everything she got.”

Support for Ebonie

Back in the Dayton area, people are doing what they can for Ebonie and Beverly.

Giovanni’s restaurant in Fairborn had a fundraiser one night and the Cake, Hope and Love bakery in Beavercreek donated partial proceeds from St. Patrick’s Day sales.

A GoFundMe page — — has been started to help Beverly and Ebonie with the massive medical bills they will face.

Bonifay said that on Sunday some of the parents of his senior football players were selling bracelets honoring Ebonie at the new Kroger store at 601 Woodman Drive in Riverside. All proceeds were to go to the Sherwoods.

Bailey Hatton said she and her boyfriend and his sister will be selling red “#Ebonie is a fighter” bracelets at school for $5 each with proceeds going to Ebonie and her mom, as well.

Beverly said one thing that really has given her daughter some joy is the cards she’s received in Cincinnati:

“I read them to her and it really brightens her day.”

They can be sent to: UC Medical Center, 3188 Bellevue Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45219, in care of Ebonie Sherwood, Cardiovascular ICU.

Beverly hopes Ebonie’s situation will aid others, as well.

Her daughter is alive now thanks to two athletic trainers being on call just off the Stebbins’ practice fields that day.

But for many prep athletes across the nation, certified trainers aren’t so readily available.

According to the international, non-profit Aspen Institute, just 56 percent of high schools with sports teams have access to athletic training services. That’s down 10 percent since 2017.

Next Thursday the Aspen Institute — in conjunction with the NFL, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Kory Stringer Institute — is holding an online forum to discuss that issue and stress how “athletic trainers on site can save (students) who suffer cardiac arrest — the No. 1 cause of death among high school athletes.”

While Martz said she and Brummett were trained for this and “saving a life is our job,” she added: “I hope to God I never have to use those skills again.”

She, like Beverly, hopes Ebonie’s situation will spur people throughout the community to get CPR training.

“Another thing I’d like to emphasize is access to AEDs,” Martz said. “They need to be everywhere — at every sporting event, every tournament, in your workplace, in airports and at post offices. Everywhere.

“Even though they can be expensive and you hope you never use them, they can be the biggest difference in saving someone’s life or keeping them alive long enough so a hospital can take care of them.”

In Ebonie’s case, that enabled her to get a new heart 13 days after her collapse.

“It’s still scary, but at least now she has an opportunity to get better,” Priest said.

Hatton agreed: “When I heard about the heart transplant, it was a burst of hope.”

And Beverly said there is reason to hope now:

“It’s going to be a turtle race. It will be a slow process to get her back where she was, but she’s fighting to get better. She’s working hard.”

And, in the process, she’s showing some of her an old traits.

Beverly said Brummett visited the other day and before he left, Ebonie managed to show comprehension and appreciation and tell him:

“Thank you … Thank you.”

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