Mark and Judy Tarbox often walk and jog the scenic trails of Reedy Creek Park to stay fit. Like many of the park’s features, the baskets and tee pads of the 18-hole disc-golf course they often pass mostly blend into the scenery.
But the heroic acts of emergency medical personnel and some people playing in the Professional Disc Golf Association’s World Championship tournament July 19 will forever be fondly engrained in the minds of the Tarboxes.
The day’s events – the couple’s morning walk, and a round of tournament disc golf – had barely begun before the two quickly intertwined. Mark Tarbox, a 61-year-old University City resident, collapsed due to a heart attack, and several of the disc golfers, most from out-of-state, were the first to try to revive him.
Lifesaving techniques applied by Charlotte Fire Department stations 34 and 27 and Medic, and open-heart surgery later that morning, saved Tarbox’s life.
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Because of circumstances that day, which seemed destined to play in Tarbox’s favor, everyone involved has called Tarbox’s heart attack and recovery a miracle.
Judy Tarbox, 55, usually takes her dogs for a walk in the park on Saturdays, but because she and Mark were both off from work July 19, Judy suggested the couple go to Reedy Creek Park.
Mark originally declined, saying he was going to stay home and mow the lawn. That’s the last thing he remembers about that day; he can’t recall why he changed his mind and went to the park.
The Tarboxes took a path that put them in the middle of the disc golf course. Mark started to jog ahead of Judy as they came to a point where the path split.
“He looked at me, smiled and took a couple steps, stumbled and collapsed,” said Judy. “I ran over to him and hit him on chest and said, ‘Mark, Mark, Mark, are you OK?’ or something of that sort.”
Judy then cried out for help.
At nearby hole 16, 60-year-old Phil Bryan and his foursome had just thrown their first shots. He heard the shouts of someone saying a man had been stung by a bee, but it wasn’t Judy’s voice.
Charlotte disc-golf player Jim Banbury retrieved some allergy medicine from his car and quickly called 911.
When Bryan, a registered nurse from Huntington, W.Va., found Mark unconscious, fellow player Mike Buchanan of Nelsonville, Ohio, and Pete Langley of Allen, Texas, already had started chest compressions. Buchanan regularly teaches lifesaving classes as part of his job with the U.S. Forest Service.
Bryan joined the two men, and before long a team of disc golfers that included Phil Rowe of St. Augustine, Fla., and Mike Whipple of West Jordan, Utah, were all helping with CPR. Bryan and Buchanan said the five disc-golfers performed CPR for about 15 minutes as Tarbox was in and out of consciousness.
Firefighters from Station 27 and Station 34, which is adjacent to Reedy Creek Park, arrived and loaded equipment on a vehicle small enough to maneuver through the woods to reach Tarbox. Medic staff arrived and shocked him twice with an defibrillator.
Tarbox was transported by ambulance to CMC-University, then to CMC-Main, where he had open-heart surgery. A stent was inserted near his heart; three had been inserted about five years earlier after a similar cardiac episode.
Back at Reedy Creek Park, tournament director Justin Bambury restarted play after a 30-minute suspension. By the end of the day, word got back to the Reedy Creek players that Tarbox had died. It wasn’t until Friday that accurate information got to the golfers.
At 10:30 a.m. July 21, Tarbox woke up confused and surrounded by hospital personnel. He didn’t remember anything of the previous 48 hours.
Tarbox was in the hospital for a week and returned for an overnight stay a couple days later after he experienced some dizziness and a low pulse. Doctors told him to relax for 30 days before he returns to his job as a painter and roofer.
Tarbox, a Vietnam War Navy veteran, says he will spend the time “trusting in God” and communicating with the Veterans Administration about getting his medical bills paid. He looks forward to a time when he might get to thank the disc golfers who rushed to his aid.
“The doctor said I should have been brain dead,” said Tarbox, although the physician “could have saved my life through the surgery. If it wasn’t for everything they did … It was a miracle. It was those people that kept me alive.”
On July 31, Tarbox had the opportunity to visit Station 34 and meet the firefighters – including those from Station 27 – who helped save his life. By the end of the evening, the firefighters were inviting the Tarboxes back to the station for lunch and the Tarboxes were inviting the firefighters to their home for a barbecue.
From the station, the group took the short drive to the park where disc golfers Jim Banbury and Justin Bambury waited for their reunion with the Tarboxes. Mark Tarbox expressed his gratitude countless times and revered the heroics and quick action by those involved.
At the end of the evening, Mark summed things up by saying, “This is an awesome day.”