By Stephanie Farr
Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA — Tommy "TJ" Ramos, a 9-year-old catcher on the Torresdale Boys Club baseball team, had just stepped onto the field on Leon Street near Eden for practice at about 6 p.m. Sept. 12 when he collapsed for no explicable reason.
"He went down on his face. It looked like a seizure," said his mother, Micki Ramos. "I completely freaked."
But it wasn't a seizure. TJ's small, young heart was undergoing cardiac arrest. He was having a heart attack.
Luckily, two off-duty Philadelphia cops — K-9 Officer John Callahan, a coach with TJ's team, and Gang Unit Officer John Pasquarello, who was watching his son practice — jumped into action while another coach called 9-1-1.
"At first I thought it was a seizure," Callahan recalled. "He was very stiff, and he had grass in his hand when I rolled him over."
TJ had stopped breathing, he had no pulse, his eyes rolled back in his head and his lips turned purple, the officers said. That's when they began CPR, with Callahan administering mouth-to-mouth and Pasquarello doing compressions until an ambulance arrived.
"They stayed with him the whole time," Ramos said. "I was bawling and couldn't even focus."
Ramos rode in the ambulance with her son, and Callahan drove her husband, Carlos, to the hospital.
She said both officers stayed with the family at Aria Health's Torresdale hospital for hours.
"They just said, 'What do you need us to do?' " Ramos recalled. "I know it could not have been comfortable for them to sit there with me while I cried my eyes out."
Eventually, TJ was transferred to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where doctors diagnosed him with catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, a disease that Ramos described as a genetic heart condition. She said that because of the disease, as TJ's heart rate and adrenaline increase, the bottom two chambers of his heart beat furiously and cause him to pass out.
According to the National Institutes of Health, CPVT can be "highly lethal" if untreated. Ramos said TJ had no symptoms of the disorder before that day.
However, that practice was the first TJ had attended in three weeks because he had suffered what was believed to be a concussion during a hockey practice. In hindsight, Ramos said, it may have been related to his condition.
"He told me, 'I did not go to sleep because I fell, I fell because I went to sleep first,' " Ramos said.
Last week, TJ had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) surgically installed in his heart. The device is like a pacemaker and defibrillator combined, so that if TJ's heart ever stops again, the device should automatically restart it.
Initially, Ramos was told that because of the device, TJ could never play contact sports again, nor could he be within 6 inches of a cellphone or video game because they could set the device off, she said.
However, just yesterday a company specializing in protective sports gear offered to donate a shirt that TJ can wear under his Torresdale Boys Club uniform that will protect his implanted device.
TJ remains hospitalized, although he was given a four-hour pass last night to attend a school event and hang out with his buddies, Officers Callahan and Pasquarello, who often visit him at CHOP. He is expected to remain hospitalized for one to two more weeks, his mother said.
But TJ has his life, and Ramos has her TJ -- thanks, she said, to the two officers who were calm under pressure.
"If they didn't intervene, most likely my son wouldn't be here," she said. "All the doctors are telling me that we're very, very lucky they not only knew CPR but actually did it, because some people freeze."
Pasquarello said he was just applying his training to save a life. He wishes more people would take a CPR class.
"Before, TJ was just another child on my son's team," Pasquarello said. "Now, he's going to be my buddy for the rest of my life."
Even though the officers remain humble, Ramos knows that their actions helped to keep her world and her family whole.
"They really don't think they did anything extraordinary, but they have no idea that my son wouldn't be here without them," she said. "I don't know how much bigger you get than that."
A fund has been set up to help offset TJ's medical costs. If you wish to donate, visit tinyurl.com/qc7r5nk.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 the Philadelphia Daily News