The true meaning of a clutch performance

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When we talk about coming through in the clutch, we often talk about Tom Brady, David Ortiz or Michael Jordan.

They throw the key pass, make the big hit and sink the last-second shot. We call them heroes, and they get paid enough money to buy a small country.

As I watched the nurses and respiratory specialists at St. James Healthcare work feverously to get my son ready for a life flight to Missoula, however, I couldn’t help but think of just how wrong we are.

Toward the end of his second week in the sixth grade, Grady suffered a severe asthma attack. While it at first appeared to be on the bottom scale of the attacks and trips to the hospital he has been through in the past, it suddenly took a violent and nearly deadly turn for the worse.

Watching the nurses, doctors and flight team work together to save a boy they never knew certainly put into perspective the employment of a guy who writes about sports for a living.

Brady, Ortiz and Jordan are not heroes. They are just ballplayers.

I was just getting a glimpse into what these men and women do every day, too. They are counted on to come through in the clutch to save life after life with little to no fanfare.

Like offensive linemen, you only hear about medical professionals when they are accused of making a mistake.

Between St. James Healthcare and Community Medical Center in Missoula, so many people came through in the clutch to save my son. The numbers are too great to mention them all.

One name that I have to mention, though, is Dr. Amanda Opfer, a young doctor in the St. James emergency room whom I never before met.

She showed that just like in sports — where statistics lead some to falsely claim Emmitt Smith was a better running back than Walter Payton — numbers can quite often lie.

I was not too concerned while waiting in the emergency room because I was trained on the numbers that I was too used to following when Grady gets hooked up to machines. I kept one eye on Grady’s numbers and another on my email, Facebook and Twitter.

I think I even briefly dozed off a time or two.

While another doctor, looking at the same high oxygen numbers that gave me a false sense of security, suggested sending Grady home with a couple of breathing treatments and a dose of oral steroids, Dr. Opfer made a clutch play.

She listed to my son’s breathing with her stethoscope. Then she listed again, and then again. The doctor noticed that something just did not sound right, and she insisted that Grady be admitted to the hospital for further evaluation.

A couple hours later, when Grady’s asthma went from bad to life-threatening, he was under the care of nurses and respiratory specialists in the hospital. They quickly moved him to the intensive care unit, where we met some more top-notch professionals.

In the ICU, Grady was stabilized enough that I felt comfortable pulling out my computer to write a quick preview story for Butte High’s home football game against Helena High. Again, I was fooled by the numbers.

Then, Grady got worse. And worse. Then worse.

By the time the life flight team landed on the helicopter pad not far from his room, Grady was telling us goodbye through breaths he was fighting as hard as he could fight to breathe.

He struggled to tell us he loved us, thinking for certain that he was going to die.

Had Grady been at home instead of in room No. 504 at St. James Healthcare, he might have done just that. That thought has made it difficult to sleep.

Thankfully, Dr. Opfer came through in the crucial situation and made sure that our nightmare was not a reality that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Grady had been through many trips to the hospital for his asthma. He was even flown to Missoula once before. This time, though, was 100 times worse than the second-worst time. It was terrifying beyond words.

There was room for just one parent to fly with Grady, so I watched helplessly as the helicopter lifted up and flew out of sight. It disappeared after it passed just north of the Big M, the mountain Grady used to refer to as the “top of the world.”

Then I drove to Missoula, not 100 percent sure I would ever see my son alive again.

On the helicopter, Grady was in hands of some true professionals. They inserted yet another IV into his arm and administered some more medicine. They kept him breathing with help of a bipap mask that forced oxygen and medicine into him with every short breath.

In Missoula, some more professionals waited and watched as the helicopter appeared in Hellgate Canyon. It flew into sight just north of Missoula’s “M” on Mount Sentinel and over Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

At the pediatric ICU at Community Medical Center in Missoula, Grady could not have been handed off to a better team. We have never seen so many nurses and doctors working together at the same time.

During his nearly four-day stay in Missoula, we often had three and even four doctors in the room at the same time.

Seeing the care that Drs. Alex Kon, Lauren Willis, Laurie Carter and Paul Smith bring to their jobs was impressive, as was the numerous nurses and respiratory specialists who were constantly in Grady’s room.

Even Grady’s local pediatrician, Dr. Greg Schulte, went out of his way to stop by and see what he could do to help.

This story has a happy ending, thanks to the clutch work of so many medical professionals, especially Dr. Opfer. She is the David Ortiz of ER doctors in our book.

She should be paid enough to buy a small country.

Grady has a bunch of long drives to see medical specialists ahead of him as we struggle to get a grip on his asthma, but he is doing well.

Not long after Grady had his bipap mask removed and was able to eat, he was feeling better. He was far from great, but he knew that he was going to live. He was doing well enough that he was able to move down the hall to a room for less-critical patients.

We had to move in a hurry, too, because another young boy desperately needed the room we were leaving.

The new boy and his family were going through the same life-threating nightmare we had just snapped out of, and the members of the team at Community Medical Center readied to help like they do every single day.

I did not have to imagine the fears of the boy’s family because I had just lived it. I was just really hoping that they would have a happy ending like we did.

As the helicopter emerged north of the “M” on Mount Sentinel, and I found comfort knowing that the boy had more than a fighting chance.

Like my son, the boy was flying into the arms of professionals who know the true meaning of coming through in the clutch.