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‘It could save someone’s life’ | Family starts foundation in memory of Watson teenager who died from sudden cardiac arrest

To the outside world, Grayson Lane Temple was the picture of health.

He played many sports growing up, including football, basketball, and baseball.

He enjoyed fishing, hunting, and being outdoors, and he was usually wearing camouflage, his signature color.

He also loved working on cars, welding, pulling pranks on family members and friends, and spending time in the kitchen tinkering with his latest recipe, but always leaving a mess. He was often wearing a grease-stained cut-off shirt and shorts with crocs or cowboy boots.

A giant who stood 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, Temple never complained of feeling bad, and he was rarely sick.

To the outside world, he was just another active, healthy, strong, fun-loving teenager.

Until he wasn’t.

Toward the end of 2021, Temple began experiencing a variety of alarming symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Weeks went by before he told his parents, Michelle and Dale, what was bothering him.

But by then, it was too late: Less than a week after telling his parents, Grayson was in a hospital, fighting for his life.

It was a fight the Live Oak High junior ultimately lost on Dec. 8, 2021, at the age of 16.

And it was a fight, his parents believe, could’ve been prevented.

Through genetic testing done after his death, Michelle and Dale learned that Grayson was genetically predisposed to heart arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. Grayson’s official cause of death was myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle and the third-leading cause of death in student-athletes.

And Grayson’s parents had no clue.

“Unfortunately, our children are born and screened at the hospital and their heart is never screened again unless they have an issue,” Michelle said. “And sometimes, by that point, it’s too late. Like it was in our son’s case.”

After the death of their oldest son, Michelle and Dale created the Gray’s Army Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to families whose children have been impacted by heart conditions or sudden cardiac arrest.

Its mission, according to its website, is to raise awareness and provide education of sudden cardiac arrest; promote research to prevent sudden cardiac arrest and death in children, teens, and young adults; and to encourage free heart screenings in student-athletes.

The foundation is currently working with Rep. Valarie Hodges’ office on a bill that would require instruction and training on cardiac health in high school.

To Michelle, no family should have to endure what her family has endured — and is still enduring.

“Our focus is to encourage parents to look for the signs of sudden cardiac arrest and to take them seriously,” Michelle said. “It might save their kid’s life.”

‘I want a new heart’

WZNAAAAEElEQVR42mM8U88ABowYDABAxQPltt5zqAAAAABJRU5ErkJggg== - ‘It could save someone’s life’ | Family starts foundation in memory of Watson teenager who died from sudden cardiac arrest

Looking back on it now, the signs were there, Michelle said.

“He had them all — the fatigue, the irregular rhythm and fast-beating heart, the dizziness,” she said. “And this had been going on for at least six weeks, and he was telling everybody, but us.”

Grayson started experiencing these symptoms more than a month before he went into cardiac arrest. Though he kept his parents in the dark, he told some of his friends and a faculty member what was bothering him.

But no one recognized the symptoms as possible signs of a heart issue. After all, this was Grayson, as active a teenager as you could find, his family said.

“He was just really active,” Dale said. “He was always outside. In the middle of a hot summer day, he was always working on something. After everything happened, people couldn’t believe that could happen to a kid like him.”

Dale himself found it hard to believe anything was seriously wrong with his son until one Sunday when they were working at their church. As they were disassembling items and loading them up, Grayson pulled his father aside, grabbed his father’s hand, and placed it on his chest.

Dale’s hand vibrated atop Grayson’s pounding heartbeat.

“He grabbed my hand and put it on his chest, and [his heartbeat] was just pounding out of his chest,” Dale said. “I was like, ‘Man, how come you didn’t show me this before?’”

The shock made Dale think of his father, who died before his sixth birthday from heart issues that the family had no clue were passed down.

“You can’t imagine the fear,” Dale said. “In my head, I was just thinking about my father.”

A week before his death, Grayson was sick at home with what he thought was a stomach bug and a headache. Michelle, a career nurse, decided to check his blood pressure and noted his pulse was too fast for her to properly record.

She then tried to listen to his heartbeat. She quickly lost count.

“It was so erratic, I couldn’t properly record it,” she recalled. “And I’m a nurse.”

The family scheduled an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist the next day, but four days went by before Grayson was seen. After his doctor visit, Grayson was sent directly to the pediatric intensive care unit with atrial flutter, a type of abnormal heart rhythm that occurs when a short circuit in the heart causes the upper chambers (atria) to pump rapidly.

Even as Grayson walked into the PICU — wearing his camouflage jacket and customary boots, mullet flapping from side to side — the worst had yet to enter Michelle’s mind.

“I’m just thinking that I’m overreacting,” Michelle said. “At this point, I’m thinking they’ll give us a simple pill that’ll fix it, we’ll go home and follow up in a month, and he’ll be fine.

“I was wrong.”

Michelle said the medical team attempted cardioversion, a procedure that restores a normal heart rhythm in people with abnormal heartbeats, usually done by sending electric shocks to the heart through electrodes placed on one’s chest. Oral anti-arrhythmias were also unsuccessful.

On the third day, doctors said they were going to try to shock him once more. If it failed, they were going to send him to a New Orleans hospital for further treatment.

Michelle said she’ll never forget what Grayson told her that morning.

“He said, ‘I just want a new heart, and I want to go home,’” she recalled, fighting back tears.

Grayson never left the hospital alive. He tried to get out of bed but passed out, a sign of sudden cardiac arrest, and doctors found him on the floor with a gash above his eyebrow. They decided to bring him downstairs for a CT scan to make sure he didn’t have a fracture or bleeding in his head, but Grayson told them he didn’t feel right.

Dale then said a prayer over the medical team, which Michelle said did everything it could to save her son. But being a nurse, she knew the worst was minutes away.

Grayson passed out again. He coded soon after.

“I never got him back,” Michelle said.

‘It could save someone’s life’

WZNAAAAEElEQVR42mM8U88ABowYDABAxQPltt5zqAAAAABJRU5ErkJggg== - ‘It could save someone’s life’ | Family starts foundation in memory of Watson teenager who died from sudden cardiac arrest
The family of Grayson Temple, a Watson teenager who passed away on Dec. 8, 2021, after going into sudden cardiac arrest, take a photo after giving a presentation at Live Oak High. The photo was taken after the first public appearance of the Gray’s Army Foundation, a non-profit the family started for families whose children have been impacted by heart conditions or sudden cardiac arrest.

A couple years ago, Grayson got the nickname “Firebird.”

The reason: He accidentally set fire to an old Pontiac Firebird in his parents’ driveway, a scene that Michelle said drew “half of Watson” to their house, armed with fire extinguishers.

“Him and his friends were trying to repair this old car that had sat for years, and they missed a few steps because they were impatient teenagers,” Michelle recalled while watching a video of the car engulfed in flames.

“He got it cranked and drove it a few feet, and the next thing I hear is a loud ‘BOOM!’ The car had caught on fire.”

Though that scene may have called his mechanic skills into question, those who knew Grayson never questioned him.

Grayson was always one to lend a helping hand, to strangers and loved ones alike. He volunteered in a homeless ministry at his church, Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, and was part of the church’s cooking team. The hood for the Pontiac Firebird is currently on display at the church.

After the historic August 2016 flood, Grayson helped numerous people gut their homes, Michelle said. Following Hurricane Ida last August, he was once again clearing homes, installing fences, and cutting tree branches.

Even after his death, Grayson still gave to others: He was an organ donor and has given the gift of sight to two people.

Grayson cared deeply for his friends, many of whom wore camouflage one December day at school in honor of their late friend. Some of his friends still visit his family regularly. He even led some of his friends to Christ, his mother said.

“He never said ‘no,’” his mother recalled. “He was that kid that if someone needed help, he’d reach out.”

But as caring as Grayson was, he was also a noted trickster who enjoyed pulling pranks. One of his last pranks came in November, when his family was together for Thanksgiving. The year before, Grayson had dropped his older sister’s homemade chocolate pie on the kitchen floor, so he decided to trick her into thinking he had done it again.

WZNAAAAEElEQVR42mM8U88ABowYDABAxQPltt5zqAAAAABJRU5ErkJggg== - ‘It could save someone’s life’ | Family starts foundation in memory of Watson teenager who died from sudden cardiac arrest
Live Oak High students wear camouflage in honor of their classmate Grayson Temple, who passed away on Dec. 8, 2021, after going into sudden cardiac arrest.

Carrying a plate wrapped in aluminum foil, Grayson walked in front of his sister and dropped the plate with a loud thud. His sister, Corinne, looked over at Grayson, who tried to appear surprised at what he had done before his face broke into a sly grin.

“You better be glad my child is in between me and you right now,” Corinne said as others laughed.

Grayson’s family is hoping his name and memory will live on through the Gray’s Army Foundation, which they created to raise awareness for sudden cardiac arrest, its symptoms, and how to combat it.

A few weeks ago, the foundation made its first public appearance when Michelle shared Grayson’s story with freshmen at Live Oak High. Sarah Malarcher, a registered nurse and friend of the family, led teens through a relay in which they had to resuscitate someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

While explaining how to give someone CPR, Malarcher urged students to tell their parents anytime they’re experiencing symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, even if they think they’re insignificant.

“It’s not normal to be short of breath while brushing your teeth, walking to your car, unloading the dishwasher,” Malarcher said. “It is not normal to feel a squeezing in your throat when you do some kind of activity, things you do everyday.

“I don’t want to see anyone go through what my friend went through,” Malarcher continued. “And we think it was very preventable if we had just known.”

Apart from the foundation’s awareness drives, the Temple family is hoping to make a lasting impact through legislation.

House Bill 400, which was sponsored by Hodges and introduced in the current Legislative session, would mandate cardiac health instruction for grades 9-12. It would require students to be taught the nature and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest, and the risks associated with continuing to participate in an athletic activity after experiencing one or more symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest.

“I realize our athletes can get short of breath and their hearts race when they’re competing,” Michelle said. “But when you stop and settle down and have had time to catch your breath, if your heart continues racing and beating out of your chest, that’s not normal.”

Michelle said she modeled the bill off of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, which was first passed in Pennsylvania in 2012 and has since been passed in more than a dozen other states.

Along with student requirements, Michelle wants the bill to require coaches to take an annual online training course about sudden cardiac arrest and force them to remove players from competition who exhibit symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. That player would not be allowed to return until being cleared by a licensed medical professional.

Michelle is also hoping more schools will incorporate heart screenings into the annual physicals for their student-athletes. Heart screens are currently not included in high school athletic physicals, leaving many cardiac conditions undetected.

Each year, more than 3,000 children and teenagers die while playing sports from an undiagnosed heart condition, according to the Louisiana Pediatric Cardiology Foundation. To help combat that issue, the foundation in 2012 introduced the “Save A Heart. Save A Life.” screening program that aims to identify high school athletes who may be at risk for sudden cardiac death.

Through the program, LPCF partners with high schools in the Baton Rouge area to screen all those who participate in organized sports at the high school level. Each athlete receives an EKG and Echocardiogram, both analyzed by a local pediatric cardiologist.

Of the 20 or so participating schools, two are in Livingston Parish (Denham Springs High and Live Oak High).

“Unfortunately, we missed the screening [Grayson’s] ninth grade year because of COVID,” Michelle said. “And it could’ve been caught and possibly been treated.”

This month, the Gray’s Army Foundation will participate in an event at the Live Oak High football field to share Grayson’s story with the community. The free event will begin at 5:30 p.m. on April 20, which would’ve been Grayson’s 17th birthday.

During the event, Michelle and others will share Grayson’s story and explain ways people can recognize sudden cardiac arrest and treat it.

“We want people to hear his story,” Michelle said. “It could save someone’s life.”

‘It could save someone’s life’ | Family starts foundation in memory of Watson teenager who died from sudden cardiac arrest
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