Heart-attack scare did not derail Carters

Updated: January 13, 2012

By Bryan Van Kley

Commitment to wrestling runs deep for the families in the sport. No story may dictate that more than what happened to the family of Midlands champ Devin Carter two weeks ago.

Virginia Tech's Devin Carter (left) defeated Iowa's Tony Ramos for the 2011 Midland title at 133 pounds.

After winning his quarterfinal match as the No. 2 seed at 133 on Dec. 29, Virgina Tech’s Carter and his parents Jeff and Debbie were heading back to the hotel so Devin could work out. Jeff had been having some chest pain that he thought was heartburn. By the time they reached the hotel, Jeff was sweating. His wife, who happens to be a nurse, knew the situation was not good; classic signs of a heart attack.
The Carters dropped Devin off at the hotel and quickly drove across the street to the hospital. It was fortunately less than 100 yards away. That close proximity may have saved Jeff’s life as he had a massive heart attack over the next couple minutes.
Rushing him into the operating room, doctors soon found Jeff had 100 percent blockage in one of the main arteries leaving his heart. He soon flat-lined, requiring physicians to shock his chest to save his life.
Meanwhile, Debbie was calling Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser to bring Devin over to the hospital quickly. However, they left out the details of how bad things were at that point to not worry their son more than was needed.
“We didn’t tell him the full story. I don’t think he fully understands even now,” Jeff said.
Devin and Coach Dresser hurried over to the hospital and met Debbie in the waiting room. The trio waited for more news from the doctors. Dresser said he distinctly remembers when the doctor came with the update. Based on the look on his face, Dresser said he thought they were going to tell them Jeff had died. Fortunately, the opposite was true and Jeff was doing well and in recovery.
After a short time, Devin and Debbie were soon able to see Jeff in his room. Devin remembers that conversation well.
“When he came out of surgery he asked, ‘How’s your weight?’ He said you need to get some sleep because you have two big matches tomorrow. It wasn’t even a question of whether I’d wrestle, he insisted that I did,” Devin said.
That’s just what the Hokie sophomore did the next day. Devin said Dresser did a great job of helping him keep his focus.
“He just reminded me that if my dad was there he would want my mind totally on the match. He texted me before the finals that he was fine, to keep my mind (focused),” Devin said.
While keeping the situation with his dad in perspective, Devin went out and major decisioned No. 7 A.J. Schopp of Edinboro in the semis. Debbie made the short drive over to Welsh-Ryan Arena to watch that early-afternoon semifinal, then drove back to the hospital to be with her husband.
Debbie was there for the finals again, the biggest match in her youngest child’s life. This time she taped Devin getting a takedown in overtime to upset second-ranked Tony Ramos of Iowa 6-4 for the title. Mom and son took the video back to the hospital room and replayed it with Jeff in his hospital bed and had an obviously low-key unique celebration together.
“She texted me after the match was over and said, “Don’t get excited, your son just won. It was a pretty exciting couple days,” Jeff said matter-of-factly.
After five days in the hospital under supervision, 49-year-old Jeff was released from the hospital. He and Debbie returned to their homestate of Virginia to do what parents do: put their kids’ best interests in front of their own, always. Devin, who turned 20 on Jan. 8 and is now ranked No. 2 at 133, continues on with his sophomore season.
Prior to this incident, Jeff had been quite healthy. A consultant who does work for the army, Jeff coached Devin and his older brother and sister up until high school. He estimated the three of them competed in 5,000-6,000 matches over their careers which took the Carter family all over the U.S. to national-level tourneys.
As readers, you can now see why this story resonated with me in regards to wrestling families’ commitment level.
When asked to put into words what wrestling means to them, Jeff simply said, “It’s been a pretty big part of our lives.”
And it still is.

(This column first appeared in the  Jan. 17, 2012 edition of Wresting Insider Newsmagazine. Click on “Subscribe to WIN” to receive your own magazine, which is published 12 times in a calendar year.)