As he settled into his seat in a gymnasium situated three miles from State College, Pa., the most pressing concern for UMass Dartmouth baseball coach Bob Prince was how his sixth-grade son, Harry, would mesh with his new AAU basketball teammates.
Down on the hardwood that Saturday afternoon in early February, Harry was trying to hold his own against 12-year-old Donte Greene, an imposing 6-foot-2-inch forward, playing for the highly-ranked Ivy Lions of Westchester, N.Y.
“My son was guarding [Greene] in the post,” Prince recalled of the Boston-based Expression’s second game of the Made Hoops 2021 East Circuit on Feb. 6. “[Greene] was coming down on offense and he posted up and he just lost his legs.”
Greene first dropped to one knee, then collapsed face-first onto the court. His mother, Barbara Palmer-Greene, rushed toward him before officials could stop play.
“He was unconscious,” she recalled earlier this week. “The doctor said as he went down to the floor, he was dead. He died.”
A parent in attendance, Dr. Alicia Morgan, was quickly at Greene’s side. Meanwhile, Prince made his way onto the court to check on his son.
“My first thought is it’s early in the season and kids aren’t accustomed to masks,” he said. “He probably overheated. I thought he passed out.”
Then Dr. Morgan yelled out for someone trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
“I know CPR, but because it was my son, I was gone,” Palmer-Greene said. “I was hysterical.”
But a few feet away, Prince heard the plea. All NCAA Division 2 and 3 head coaches are required to be certified in CPR — the MIAA has a similar requirement for high school coaches — and he had just attended his bi-yearly refresher course in September.
“He was extra attentive,” Dan Guertin, an assistant athletic director at UMass Dartmouth said of Prince’s training session. “He had prepared ahead of time. He asked questions about technique. For whatever reason, he was really into it.”
But even the model student never expected to put it into practice.
“Never crossed my mind,” said Prince, a former three-time All-American baseball player at Southern Maine who is entering his seventh season at UMass Dartmouth.
But there he was, five months later and four states away, pushing his way through the throng to where Donte lay.
“I knelt on the left side,” Prince said, “and [Dr. Morgan] quietly said, ‘I don’t feel a pulse, can you find one?’”
He looked down. Greene’s eyes were fixed on him, unmoving.
He felt his wrist. Nothing. His neck. Nothing.
He put his ear over Greene’s mouth and gazed across his chest. Nothing.
“It got to the point where the more time I debated this mentally, the longer, potentially, he’s not breathing and the more damage could be done,” Prince said.
So he ripped off his mask, and Greene’s, and began performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“I had (Guertin’s) voice in my head walking me through the situation,” Prince said. “I’m so thankful I had the training. If I had not, I would have been standing there helpless.”
“We preach that everyone should be getting this training, whether it’s coaching staff, parents, layperson,” Guertin said. “Everyone should have it. You just don’t know when something’s going to happen.”
Prince continued CPR for about five minutes before someone arrived with an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and attached it to Greene’s chest.
“It said no pulse,” Prince said. “It got kind of real again for me.”
Prince continued CPR for another five minutes until an ambulance arrived and paramedics hooked Greene up to an EKG.
“It was like in the movies,” Prince said. “The line was going flat.”
But a few minutes later, after more CPR and another shock from the AED, a faint pulse returned. Relief washed over Prince.
“I’ll be honest,” he said, “after 10 minutes of CPR and nothing happening, I kept thinking the percentages of him making it were getting slim. I was not expecting good news.”
“I was praying in the corner,” Palmer-Greene said. “They were like, ‘He’s awake,’ and I ran over to him.”
Later that night, Guertin’s phone buzzed.
“At first I wasn’t sure why the head baseball coach was texting me at a random time not in season, but when I read it, I was immediately taken with pride,” Guertin said. “He was able to jump to action like we train to do. That’s what we preach.”
As father and son drove back to their hotel later that day, Harry began to ask his dad questions about what had happened. Prince was overcome with emotion.
“You think about your kids and ... what it would have been like if I was his parents watching that situation,” Prince said. “Throughout the whole process of giving CPR you’re looking at him and looking into his eyes and thinking ‘This is a sixth-grade kid.’
“All those thoughts, I still get them now. They certainly stuck with me. Hearing the screams and cries of parents and kids, hearing the EKG machine with that flatline noise, witnessing him and rubbing his head, all those senses keep coming back.”
Greene, who was able to speak before being taken away on a stretcher, rode by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Mechanicsville, where he stayed for five days. Doctors determined a lack of oxygen led to swelling of his heart, Palmer-Greene said, but they are still awaiting more test results to reveal a diagnosis.
He is now back at home in Westchester.
“He’s like nothing happened,” Palmer-Greene said. “He’s playing video games with his friends, doing normal activities.”
Except, for now, he’s staying away from sports.
“Hopefully, he can play again,” Palmer-Greene said. “If not, I’m just glad he’s alive. … Every day I look at my son and thank God. Thank you Lord for sending two guardian angels that day.”
After returning to their home in Dartmouth, the Princes realized they didn’t know how to contact the Greene family. So Harry got on Instagram and found a link to a GoFundMe page that had been set up to help defray Greene’s medical costs. They sent an email and within an hour, while Prince stood on the sidelines of an Expressions practice, he received a call from Palmer-Greene, who then put her son on the phone.
“I started crying in the middle of a basketball practice,” Prince said. “I’m sure people were wondering what I was talking about. It was great to hear him doing well. He was such a sweet kid and thanked me for saving his life.”
For more information on how to find a CPR certification class, visit www.RedCross.org/take-a-class/cpr.