The tragic, unexpected death of his best friend almost a year and a half ago, prompted Tabor College freshman Nathan Martinez and his parents to do their part to keep a similar tragedy from happening here.
Nathan said he met John Lee during their seventh-grade year in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas. The duo connected almost immediately.
“We both played basketball,” Nathan said. “We hung out like every weekend. He was more of a brother than a friend, because wherever we went, we were together. If I wasn’t at home, nine times out of 10 I was probably somewhere with him, and vice versa.”
John was athletically gifted and excelled in the classroom. He was considering an Ivy League school and had toured Brown University in May. In July, the 6-foot-5 standout guard participated in a summer camp in Pennsylvania, hoping to be evaluated by college scouts.
Near the end of the camp, John collapsed on the court. Staff tried to revive him, but he remained unresponsive. He was only 17 years old.
Unknown by his family, John was afflicted with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a silent disease that is the leading cause of death in student-athletes. The problem can be detected in heart screenings but the tests aren’t 100 percent accurate.
John’s parents were devastated by the loss of their son, but they weren’t willing to let his story end. Instead, they founded the John Lee Foundation, a non-profit effort to raise awareness about HCM, fund research and provide heart screenings for student-athletes.
This past weekend, Nathan’s parents made the six-hour drive from Dallas to Hillsboro to support their son on the basketball court, and to donate an automated external defibrillator for the Tabor campus in John’s memory.
An AED is a portable, electronic device that automatically diagnoses the life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and pulseless ventricular tachycardia. It is able to treat them through defibrillation, the application of electricity which stops the arrhythmia.
“This is the first time we’ve actually donated one,” Jason Martinez said. “With Nathan going to school here, we just wanted John Lee’s name to live on. We really felt like if Nate is here, John should be here with him. We are really close with John Lee’s mom and his father as well. We wanted to make sure we got their blessing.”
A small plaque accompanied the donation: “In loving memory of our friend John Lee. Some people inspire themselves. Amazing people inspire others. Heart of a Warr10R.”
Katrina Steiner, the lead athletic trainer at Tabor, said having an additional AED on the Tabor campus is a significant gift, particularly with February being, “Heart Health Month.”
“This will give us a peace of mind, knowing that there will be an extra AED on campus to help prevent death from cardiac-related issues,” Steiner said. “We currently have two portable AEDs that are located in both athletic training rooms on campus. However, these are only available and used by the sports medicine staff. By getting this AED, it will be more visible and accessible to anyone stepping foot onto our campus.”
The plan for the Martinez AED is that it will travel with the Bluejays when the teams hit the road, ensuring that the life-saving instrument is readily accessible to save a life.