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How two strangers saved a life in Section 209 of Nationals Park

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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They were enjoying a family weekend at Nationals Park on June 11 — a dad, a mom, two adult sons — until John Clements couldn’t talk or breathe.

The Milwaukee Brewers, their hometown team, had just given up three straight homers to the Washington Nationals. Rhonda Clements, the mom, told her boys their dad needed help. Nick, the youngest at 32, smiled and cracked a joke, a fitting response for a group that likes to rib one another.

“What’s up?” Nick recalled asking. “He need help finishing his beer?”

Not exactly.

John, 58, had turned a shade of blue. He had gone into cardiac arrest.

“I just keep thinking … if this happened anywhere else, like if this happened on our walk to the stadium that day, if it happened somewhere there were fewer strangers, frankly, I’m not sure he would be around anymore,” said JJ, the older brother and a D.C. resident. “But because we were in the ballpark and two strangers jumped into action, he didn’t die. It’s unbelievable.”

‘Nobody can choose where they go down’

Jamie Jill had just gotten back from his honeymoon in Mexico. He and his wife, Paige, did not have tickets until around noon that Saturday, when one of Jamie’s fellow firefighters offered them up. And Lindy Prevatt wasn’t supposed to be in Section 211 with her husband, because their friends typically have seats in another part of the stadium.

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But when they noticed rustling in Section 209, instinct took over. Jill, 38, told his wife that something was wrong and he wanted to check it out. Prevatt, 32 and an emergency room nurse, was nudged by her husband, who is taller and could see a man in distress. In what felt like seconds to Rhonda and Nick, Jill had John Clements on the ground in the first row and was performing CPR. Then Prevatt was right there, too, timing out two-minute intervals on her Apple Watch so she and Jill could switch off.

Jill initially checked for a pulse and didn’t feel one. Ushers cleared two sections as medical staff were alerted around the stadium.

“I’ve obviously never met her, never worked with her, but it was like … someone that I’d been working with,” said Jill, a captain in the Arlington County Fire Department. “So we kind of worked seamlessly together and [were] hoping since we initiated CPR so quickly, we were going to give this guy the best shot we could possibly give for a good outcome. … Truthfully, when I do CPR as a first responder, oftentimes the outcome is not good.”

Prevatt estimated it took about 10 minutes before in-stadium responders arrived. Onlookers recalled watching them perform CPR for 20 minutes. Using the ballpark’s defibrillator, Jill and Prevatt shocked Clements three times. Firefighters soon arrived and shocked him a fourth time. To avoid touching him after he was shocked, Prevatt held herself up with an armrest and a ballpark rail.

She described herself as a monkey or an acrobat in those moments. Rhonda can still hear them yelling, “Clear!”

Jill and Prevatt eventually helped carry Clements up the steps to a stretcher on the concourse. Stadium staff and other emergency responders handled the rest.

“Nobody can choose where they go down,” said Prevatt, who is from Alabama and works at Virginia Hospital Center. “But that was very difficult and probably the hardest place you could go down like that, to be able to access. But I’m thankful that I was there and also that I was the smallest, so I was able to at least get down and fit between the seat and the wall and do good CPR.”

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For more than a week, John, Rhonda, Nick and JJ have been reliving the nightmare in their heads and conversations. What they keep wondering, over and over, is what would have happened if Jill and Prevatt didn’t act so quickly.

Or if the two strangers weren’t at the game.

“This guy, the male fan, came down within a second after me going, ‘John, what’s going on here?’ ” Rhonda remembered. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I feel like I’m in an emergency room.’ It was surreal. And then in the background I could see the game going on and I’m like, ‘This is just amazing that people are working on him and it’s all just happening.’ Everything just went like clockwork.”

“I feel like most people, if they were moved to help, could do something,” Nick said. “But certainly not with that kind of efficiency.”

‘I was in the afterlife’

Naturally, John Clements doesn’t remember much. During the scramble, he can only recall smiling at a bird, then telling his wife and a frowning bird that they should smile with him. He doesn’t know how to explain that. He called it “some sort of brain thing.” Otherwise, he was looking at his hand during the sixth inning and then woke up in George Washington University Hospital.

Back at Nationals Park, Scott Fear, the team’s head of security, delivered the good news to the family: Clements had come to in the ambulance and was breathing.

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“I was in the beyond. I was in the afterlife,” Clements said eight days after the incident, once he and his wife took a train back to Wisconsin because doctors told him not to fly. “So if you want to know who is going to win the World Series or Super Bowl, cut me a small check and I’ll relay that information.”

After serving as a military pilot for 24 years, Clements retired to fly an emergency medical crew. It was normal for him to witness a lifesaving act, admire it and move on. But he doesn’t expect that to be the case anymore.

“They would save somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, and I would go home and think, ‘Oh, interesting day; what’s for supper?’ ” he said. “When someone saves you, though, it makes you think about life differently. I’m just so grateful they were there.”

As he rests at home, Clements hopes to regain his flying certificate to keep helping others. But Jill and Prevatt also inspired him to do so in another way.

Over his decades as a military member, then in his recent run as an EMS pilot, Clements has passively gone through a number of CPR training sessions. Now, he plans to seek guidance on the best ways to help someone in an emergency. He has promised to know what to do.

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