The only thought racing through Alex West’s mind was making sure the player he was hovering over could hear him.
“Can you breathe?” West asked Houston County’s Jefferey Cox, who lay motionless on the far sideline after a routine tackle during a scrimmage at Jo Byrns High School on Aug. 3.
“He tried to say something,” said West, a 23-year-old athletic trainer. “I could tell he wanted to tell me. Then he just sort of slightly shook his head no.”
As both coaching staffs kept players back, West began doing what he was trained to do but never thought he would need to pull off — not a month into his job.
“I never thought about it as saving a life,” West said. “I’ve only thought about it as doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Cox’s tackle had turned into a pile of players, each one slowly getting up after the whistle. Cox remained on the ground, unable to move.
The end result was a fracture in Cox’s C1 and C2 vertebrae leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
The 17-year-old starting defensive back continues to recover at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He’s fought pneumonia that developed within days of the injury and has made some progress in his recuperation.
That progress is thanks in large part to those who thrust themselves on the field into a dire situation.
Jo Byrns trainer, others spring into action
West felt for Cox’s pulse. When he couldn’t feel one, the chest compressions began. Others arrived to help minutes later.
A woman who was CPR certified provided rescue breaths while West handled the chest compressions. West could not recall her name.
Referee David Messmer, a registered nurse, helped stabilize Cox’s neck. Jo Byrns assistant football coach Tyler Estep arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED) while head coach Tom Adkins called 911.
“At that point nothing else matters but making sure that kid is all right,” Adkins said. “And Alex and coach Estep and everyone involved really did a marvelous job at taking control of the situation.”
West said the AED read Cox’s vital signs and recorded a faint pulse. West continued with compressions until a strong pulse could be felt.
After an ambulance arrived, Cox was taken to Springfield’s NorthCrest Medical Center and eventually life-flighted less than 30 miles southeast to Nashville.
“There’s nerves, no doubt,” West said. “But your only focus is who you are working on. You don’t have time to think about how nervous you are. You have to stay level or you’re not doing anyone any good.”
Recent Cumberland graduate had just started job
West was certified as an athletic trainer in March before graduating from Cumberland University where he also played soccer. He began working at Star Physical Therapy, which outsources trainers to high schools.
“I’ve talked to people in this business who have been doing this 25 years and none of them have had this happen,” West said.
West estimated he went through one CPR cycle — 30 compressions with two rescue breaths — before others arrived to assist Cox.
“We actually had the AED close by,” Estep said. “I was able to get to it pretty quickly.”
West routinely has one ready during practices or games.
“He was the one that brought it out of the building,” Adkins said. “We have two. And our team has an emergency action plan that we go over with the staff and our players in times like this.”
It took nearly 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to the football field from Springfield, according to Adkins. Meanwhile West and the others methodically continued CPR until West finally felt Cox’s pulse return.
“Sometimes I wish I could have done more for Jefferey,” West said.
Jefferey Cox gets support from high school football communities
Cox’s recovery is what West thinks most about.
“I think about him every day, praying that he gets better,” West said. “I’ve reached out to his mother and I keep up with his progress on Facebook.”
Alicia Parker began a Facebook page “Jefferey’s Strong Journey” days after the accident and updates it regularly. Area schools like Jo Byrns, Stewart County and Rossview continue to support Cox and the Fighting Irish community by donating money while several schools have sent well-wishes in the form of t-shirts and other items.
Houston County and McEwen players said a short prayer before the start of their season opener Friday dedicated to Cox.
His recovery inspires both his family and friends as well as the Erin community. High school administrators want to give Cox’s family privacy while Jefferey heals.