BOZICH | Kentucky Football Hall determined to help the next Tanner Demling
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Sometimes you need to put the deflated footballs, self-absorbed running backs and Super Bowl predictions in the dumpster and invest your attention in pro football players who are not showing up to avoid a fine.
Thursday morning was one of those times.
Jacob Tamme and Frank Minnifield were two of those players.
The pediatric heart care unit at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville was their cause.
Tanner Demling, a 16-year-old sophomore at Trinity High School, remains one of their most inspiring stories -- a Super Bowl winner regardless of which team wins the game on Sunday.
“You almost couldn't write a movie script to be more remarkable than Tanner's story,” said Dr. Walter Sabczyk, Tanner's pediatric cardiologist.
When Minnifield, a former all-pro defensive back, helped create the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame more than a decade ago his wide-angle view was more than simply scheduling a golf outing and honoring the great football players that Kentucky has produced.
The goal was to help children.
“We didn't say Tennessee, we didn't say Ohio, we didn't say the children of the nation. We said the children of Kentucky,” said Minnifield, a former University of Louisville star who serves as the Hall's executive director.
"To be here today with the partnership we're engaging in, fulfills our dreams. I don't want us to forget why we're doing what we're doing.”
They are doing it for the next Tanner Demling. Tanner was born in August 1998 with a congenital heart issue. Jody, his wife, Angela, and the staff at Kosair helped Tanner navigate through multiple surgeries from his first year.
Tanner Demling battled. He endured the pain and time in intensive care. He was determined to run cross country, play lacrosse and enjoy other sports with his peers. He did.
His heart got healthier, strong enough that doctors let Tanner chase his athletic dreams. Tanner Demling dazzled Dr. Sabczyk with his persistence.
“The maximum length of time anybody gets to be on a treadmill is 21 minutes,” Dr. Sabczyk said. “There are lots of athletes. We do about 400 athletes (a year on the treadmill). Tanner would always do 21 minutes.
“Out of 400 stress tests a year, maybe five children will do 21 minutes. Tanner blew everybody else out of the water, year in and year out. We would always let him play. He did such a test a year before the event and did well.”
The event occurred Oct. 4.
Tanner Demling was practicing with his club lacrosse team in Eastern Jefferson County. He told his coach that he felt light-headed. The coach advised Tanner to rest.
Before Tanner could sit down, his heart stopped.
Fortunately, his coach (Ryan Smith) and a nurse at a nearby field (Brittany Kurtz) recognized the seriousness of Tanner's distress. They performed CPR until Emergency Medical Services arrived and quickly transported Tanner to Kosair. He was hospitalized for 19 days – and then returned to the hospital two more times.
Tanner Demling has recovered after enduring several surgeries that resulted in a defibrillator being placed in his heart. He returned full-time to Trinity High School on Monday.
“They saved his life,” Jody Demling said. “We have a 16-year-old sophomore who is as healthy as he can be right now after Oct. 4, not having a pulse for 30 minutes.
“It wouldn't be that way had it not been for us here in the city of Louisville having this hospital with these doctors to work with Tanner to bring him back.”
“It's these kinds of stories that always get me to tear up, even though I've been doing this for a lot of years,” said Dr. Chris Johnsrude, another cardiologist who has treated Tanner Demling.
“It's the personal element that's the most important piece. Tanner looks terrific. He's got a great attitude.”
Minnifield and Tamme, the former Kentucky tight end, want to ensure that the text Tanner Demling is saved. Money that is generated on June 25-26 at the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame golf tournament and Induction Ceremony will be donated to pediatric heart care and Brave Hearts, a support group for local families.
“We're all very much in a leaning forward posture to try to do something for kids,” Dr. Johnsrude said.
“But actually what limits us is not our motivation or our availability. It's resources. So anything like this that can help bring resources forward, Holy Cow, what a terrific idea.”
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