It took nearly 30 months, but the tragic loss of Wes Leonard can now be credited with saving the life of another teen at the school in which he starred. Fittingly, his mother is the one to thank.
In case you’ve forgotten, Leonard’s story is among the most heartbreaking in and striking in high school sports history. Literally seconds after sinking a game-winning shot that handed Fennville High (Fennville, Mich.) a district title, Leonard collapsed on the court and died of a previously undiagnosed heart condition. The junior was the standout star on a scrappy underdog Fennville squad, and his teammates went on to a memorable playoff run in his memory after his death.
In the aftermath of the Leonard family’s loss, Wes’ mother, Jocelyn Leonard, dedicated herself to helping schools install Automatic External Defibrilators in high schools across Michigan and the country. She also has campaigned for more school officials nationwide to be trained in CPR. The thought process was simple: Wes was lost, in part because Fennville didn’t have a ready AED on campus, but if Jocelyn and the Leonard family could help save a few other teens, his memory would live on and be honored appropriately.
As reported in this excellent feature from the Detroit Free Press, Jocelyn Leonard’s redemption came in October, when a Fennville High student collapsed in the middle of a math class. Slumped on the ground, the unnamed boy had stopped breathing. An alert was sent to Leonard, who sprung into action. The Fennville choir teacher raced down the hall to the classroom, rushed in and began CPR. She activated the AED that had been retrieved from the school’s office and used it on the boy.
After a couple of brief responses that failed to fully bring him back, the boy was safely resurrected just as emergency responders entered the room. He said, "Oh, my chest," and Leonard broke into tears.
She couldn’t save her son, but Jocelyn Leonard is out to make sure that other children at Fennville won’t be lost on her watch. If she has her way, other students in Michigan won’t either, as she continues to campaign for mandatory advanced CPR training and practice in schools across the state.
Her motivation is clear, and so is her heart in the aftermath of her life saving intervention in the community which her family calls home.
"Do I know if he could have restarted his breathing on his own?" she asked. "I have no idea. I'm not going to risk it. I don't want him to have brain damage. I want him to be the great kid he was before. CPR will not kill people. You may break some cartilage, but it doesn't kill them if you do it. But it can cause brain damage or death if you don't do it."
"When you see him, you just kind of feel like he's a walking miracle," Jocelyn Leonard said, filled with joy. "You look at him and your heart kind of races."
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