St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was benched during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center last February. The Bouwmeester team hesitated and the team of coaches and doctors took part in the choreography. Bouwmeester suffered a heart attack, but within 60 seconds of his collapse, he was resuscitated by a defibrillator. The 36-year-old man was taken to hospital and underwent surgery to install a device that would help him return to a normal heart rhythm.
Blues Executive Director Doug Armstrong said at the time that there is never a good time for such an event. But there can be no better place than the Honda Center. Thanks to all the Honda Center staff and the Duck organization for their rescues.
The medical team in Anaheim last February – with similar teams at every NHL rink, at every game – underwent annual drills and dozens of hours of emergency training to prepare for such events, even if they are rare. For Chad Walker, assistant athletic coach for the Ducks, being part of that support system is a very personal thing.
The remarkable story begins on the 21st. January 2011.
A collective effort like this, Walker says, is what kept my wife alive.
Chad Walker met Becca Holzworth when they were students at Marietta College in Ohio. He studied sports medicine, she was on the volleyball team. We were very good friends, she says. And then we decided to go out. When they were 22, they moved in with Walker’s parents in Arizona. She got a job teaching high school math. He was hired by Arizona State as a graduate student.
On a Friday in January, Walker’s car was being repaired at a local garage. After work, Becky and Chad’s dad went to get the car. It was rush hour. Walker’s father was the first to leave the parking lot. Then she went outside, looking at this and that and this and that. They think the sun might be blinding, she says.
The Ford Expedition, traveling at 53 miles per hour, crashed into the driver’s side door. Becca was thrown about 30 yards from the nearest bus stop.
Walker’s father rushed in. He was assistant to the fire chief so he could call the dispatchers. Becca wasn’t breathing, and several of her teeth had sunk into her throat. My dad took out all his teeth to create an airway for him, Walker says. This essentially saved her life and kept her alive until help arrived.
Chad Walker arrived at the hospital about 30 minutes later. His girlfriend was unconscious. Her face was completely shattered and she had about 24 broken bones. The diffuse axonal injury was the most critical, the most severe traumatic brain injury.
We’ve learned this over time, but in a typical concussion, you get hit on one side and your brain stops on the other. Walker says you have a bruise on the other side of your brain. It can affect your sense of smell and your coordination, but it doesn’t really affect the game as a whole. Becca was hit with a shear force so hard it literally sheared off her brain. With this type of injury, the result is usually not very good.
The odds were against them.
They told us there was no chance she would survive, Walker said. And if she does, she’ll probably be in a vegetative state. Most people do not return to normal functioning.
Becca Walker’s head trauma usually prevents her from returning to normal work. Thanks to the Walker family.
The first few days were a traumatic whirlwind. Walker said they called her Code Blue a few times. And, yes, let them live.
Surgeons removed half of his skull to relieve pressure on the swelling in his brain and then put it back in place.
His parents flew in from Ohio. They all slept on the floor of the waiting room for about two weeks – and then lived mostly in the hospital for the next two months.
In addition, Gabrielle Giffords, then a U.S. Representative, had been shot in the head two weeks earlier in Tucson, and media coverage of her recovery made the news. We sat there and watched Becca in the hospital and made all these comparisons, Walker says. So, when Giffords took a big step, we thought Becca would be okay in a few days? And if not, will she stay behind?
Seeing Giffords recover gave Walker hope. There has always been hope that she can get through this, he says. We just believed and felt that it would get better if we stayed positive. I didn’t know what our new norm would be, but everything would be fine no matter what, as long as we were together.
After four weeks in intensive care, Becca was released for detoxification. She attended four different rehab centers as part of her recovery.
Every day has become a blessing. One day she opened her eyes. Then she responded to verbal commands. Doctors set new goals all the time. But they also wanted to be realistic and say this is how it should be, that it could go as far as it goes, Walker said. But it never stopped evolving.
Then came the day she started humming the music. Since being admitted to intensive care, Walker has been playing remixed CDs in her room – old songs she used to sing in college. One day she sang.
Then there was a landslide and everything fell into place, Walker says. She learned how to move numbers again, smile and laugh. Then she could get up, walk and eat. Things started to come back.
Becca Walker was able to return to her teaching job, but she is still feeling the effects of the accident. Thanks to the Walker family.
Walker prefers not to say much about his role in Bumister’s response. You just go back to your workout and try to execute your part of the overall plan. Just make sure you have your bases covered and do your duty for the whole team, Walker says. Fortunately, everyone behaved well that day and we got a great result.
But as he watches Becky recover, he appreciates more the collaboration that happens every day in medicine.
From an acute care perspective, Walker said that during rehab, occupational therapy, return to work therapy, it was really great to see all these unique pieces come together. And work as a team. Along with Becca, the greatest rock star of all time. Without her, none of this will happen.
NHL hockey is back! Get a 2021 live game broadcast pass for just $99.99. Click here for more information
After her accident, Becca was able to resume teaching after the following fall, but she said it was difficult to maintain a high energy level during the first semester. I just felt exhausted, she said. But she went all the way.
The couple married in 2016 and had a son, Jackson, who is now 3 years old. It doesn’t have too many lasting effects. My stamina is reduced, but maybe it’s because I’m a mom, she says. Probably the most important thing is my self-confidence; I have more doubts about myself, I’m a bit more shy when I do things.
When? On the 21st. January 2012 was the first anniversary of the accident, the couple didn’t know what to do. Should we celebrate? Walker asked. What should we do?
His current wife had a better idea: I think we should get all the snowstorms out of the Dairy Queen, she said. Because it makes me happy, and I want everyone to be happy. I don’t want this to be a sad day.
So it’s become a tradition. Every year on January 21, walkers are confronted with the Dairy Queen blizzards – and then receive a flood of photos from their friends and families chatting about the Dairy Queen blizzards across the country. This year they are also looking forward to celebrating what is now known as Becky Blizzard Day.
For them, it’s another reminder of the power of positivity.