Reliving August 31, 2013 with Danelle Readinger
October 16, 2014
SAINT MARY OF THE WOODS, Ind. - On August 31, 2013, Danelle Readinger watched as her two professions collided. Readinger is both a cross country coach and an ER nurse. As head coach for the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College women’s cross country team, she guides her runners to success on a variety of courses throughout the fall. As an ER nurse, she guides others to health on a weekly basis.
While most autumn weekends allow for coach Readinger to withdraw herself from the ER and focus on coaching the Pomeroys, one unsuspecting weekend in Franklin, Ind., forced her into ER mode at an unexpected time.
The reason she was thrown into ER mode? Jenna Parlette. Jenna was an outstanding runner for the Wilmington Quakers. A runner who had overcome years of medical issues to become a standout cross country student-athlete.
There at the finish line was SMWC cross country coach Danelle Readinger waiting for her runners to cross, cheering on the Pomeroys, and embracing the refuge of being a coach for the day. Quickly, she was Nurse Readinger. Moments away from claiming her first college victory, Jenna collapsed with the finish line just within reach.
This story has been covered before by several outlets, and people have heard brief excerpts on what coach Readinger did that fall day, a little over a year ago. With the #JennaStrong Fall Classic race, now named in Jenna’s honor, approaching on October 17th, here is that day recounted by Danelle Readinger.
Q: Describe the day of the race heading up to when you saw Jenna collapse?
Danelle: It was a warm day, and the girls were all lined up to race just like every other race. Once the event was underway, everything went as normal. I was running from spot to spot, so I could yell for the girls as they ran the race. I remember pulling one of my runners out early. It was planned, I told her to cool down. Following that, I sprinted to the finish line to see what my girls were running as they crossed the finish line, again a normal practice. Once I arrived at the start of the finish chute, I took a breath and noticed someone say a girl was down in the woods, but that she had gotten back up. It was Jenna, she was leading the race with Tapring Gottee from Vincennes. As I followed both girls towards the finish line, Jenna had the lead. Right before she reached me she veered off the route and fell hard, face first, to the ground. I remember thinking she just passed out due to the heat and exhaustion. Then, as I watched, I noticed that she hadn’t merely passed out, she was having a seizure.
Q: What was your initial reaction to seeing that Jenna was having a seizure?
Danelle: I ran to her, reaching her in seconds. It didn’t take me but a moment to see it was not good. As I arrived at her side, I was met by a trainer. I felt her pulse and noticed it was very rapid. Someone quickly mentioned she had a pacemaker. I stated I was a nurse, and asked about her medical history. The trainer and I then immediately went to work as a team united in the fight to help Jenna.
Q: What happened next?
Danelle: I checked her breathing and went to protect her from anything that she may hit while she was having the seizures. The trainer placed clothing under her head. As we assessed her, we noticed her breathing was an issue, and we did all we could to give her rescue breaths. Her Grandmother and Grandfather were beside me explaining that she did not look good, and that she had epilepsy. At that time another person on the scene asked if we wanted her medicine. I stated yes. I quickly noticed she was not getting enough oxygen between seizures. As her seizure started to let up, I asked if she had a mask, and she did! We continued lifesaving practices and the trainer and I would assess her after breaths and seizures. While we were doing all we could, I felt helpless due to the lack of the equipment that I am used to in the emergency department (ED). In a situation like this, you see how easily it is to take the simple things like oxygen masks, ambu bags, monitors, and medications for granted. We did our best to keep giving her oxygen throughout the seizures, and checking her pulse, which was strong and regular.
Jenna was not conscious, nor did she ever make eye contact, though attempts were made. As she laid in the grass, I was trying my best to stay positive, and praying my hardest inside for God to just lead me. Someone, I think Jenna’s mom, showed up with her medicine, Diastat, to give her. At that time, I asked several people to form a barrier so that I could administer the medicine in the best manner possible. I also asked all the spectators to turn around so that they were not watching. I have used this medication before on patients having seizures. Given my past experiences with this medicine, I was expecting the seizures to stop, which would then make us maintain rescue breaths or even CPR at worse.
But, they did not stop, it never stopped. Her Mother, Grandfather and Grandmother had asked me several times if she would be okay. I told them we were doing all that we could. Jenna’s mom, Lisa Parlette, is such an amazing person. So many times they asked me … Will she be okay, what is going on? I explained she can most likely hear you, tell her you love her, and tell her you are here. I tried to put their focus on her, and keep everyone as calm as possible, but inside I wasn’t. I was frustrated and sad about the unknown that was to come.
Two ambulances arrived on the scene. The EMTs came out and asked what we needed. Someone informed them that I was a Nurse and could give them information. It was natural for me; I was in nurse mode and gave them the report of what was happening, while still providing care for Jenna. Together, the four of us then got her in the ambulance, and off she went.
Q: Going back to when you first began to aid Jenna. What was going through your mind?
Danelle: I was wishing I had more with me. I wanted to keep her family calm and communicate what I was doing, and just give her all that I could. I wanted to save her. God had another plan.
Q: What was your final moment with Jenna like before she was taken to the hospital? Did you have any feelings as to what may be wrong?
Danelle: I knew the length of the seizure was not good and the fact that we could not get it to stop was worse. I was still wishing I had more out there with me. I felt sad, confused, frustrated, helpless, and upset, but I had to hold myself together. I had my team who watched it, who watched me. They prayed for her, we prayed for her. That was all we could do at that point. I know praying was the best thing we could do after she was gone, but I still felt helpless.
Q: How did you stay in tuned with what was happening after she left?
Danelle: I was able to talk to coach Sargent, which is Franklin’s coach, and he would keep me updated. I finally called the hospital once I realized that she was moved to Indianapolis on a ventilator. I called the nurse and left a message (knowing I was not family, I would not be able to disrupt, nor did I want to). I just wanted to know what was happening. Before I knew it, the nurse called and put Lisa Parlette on the phone. She updated me and let me know that Jenna was on a ventilator, and that her kidneys were not doing well, she was not doing well. At that point, I cried, we both did. I told her that I would be praying, and pray I did.
After my talk with Lisa, I wanted to see her, so I called our Athletic Director Deanna Bradley and asked her if she would go with me. I was so nervous to go see her. What would I say? I was a mess, but I wanted to be strong and wanted them to know I really cared! Jenna and I’s interaction on that field instantly made her and her family a part of my life. The morning Coach Bradley and I were to head to the hospital to see Jenna, I received a call from Lisa to say that they decided to take her off life support, and that she had past. I cried and cried. I can’t remember that day, or even those next few weeks.
What happened to Jenna? EMT’s were able to stop the seizures on the way to the local hospital. But once there, they saw that her pacemaker had not fired, so they realized the issues were not coming from her heart, which meant she needed to head to Indianapolis. Jenna would spend three days in Indianapolis as doctors tried to figure out what was happening. It turned out that Jenna had had an underlying issue that had slipped by doctors in the past who weren’t equipped to uncover what she was battling. While they gave her medicine for epilepsy and a pacemaker to keep her heart going, over the years a more serious condition continued to grow. A doctor with Indiana University Health concluded that Jenna had an energy metabolism disorder, which meant her body couldn’t properly convert protein into energy. It also meant she was unable to breakdown toxins such as lactic acid and ammonia. Her liver could no longer hold off the lactic acid build up from being a high performing athlete, and this led to Jenna passing away after three days on life support.
Q: Describe your reaction to learning of Jenna’s passing?
Danelle: My heart breaks every time I think about her. All I know and could do was not enough. It is still so painful to not have been able to have saved her, so she could have another moment to be with her family. It is hard to know that a young lady who loved what she did, was determined and as vibrant as she was, and loved so much, is no longer here. You could see how much she was loved in her family’s eyes as she laid on the field. I felt unprepared for that day, yet prepared; it’s a hard thing to explain. I am a firm believer that Jesus brings us home when it is time. I lost my fiancé in an instance at 19, he too was 20, and I know the hole that leaves in someone, the sadness and emptiness to never hear their voice, feel their touch, see them smile, or hear them laugh.
I found myself thinking about how this was a competitor that none of us knew before that race, but after, we all fell in love with, and cared about, and were praying for her. Jenna’s mom called to check on me and ask me how I was doing. The one who lost her child wanted to know how I was doing, and to tell me that I was her angel. Those words hurt me due to the burden I felt of not being able to do more, but I did do all that I could.
Q: How has Jenna’s passing changed the way you coach or approach cross country in general?
Danelle: Man, A LOT! I am more appreciative of the healthy, and the unhealthy. I am more compassionate. I watch more things around me when we go places and do things. I truly realize how blessed I am to have this privilege and to have everyone in my life.
Q: How, if at all, has this event changed you as a medical professional?
Danelle: It has. I have gone to wilderness seminars to learn more about what I can do without anything, though I know I was as prepared as I could have been that day. I do take more time to listen and more time to not always be right, and to just be.
To celebrate Jenna’s life, Wilmington College has created the #JennaStrong Fall Classic. Jenna was an advocate for Epilepsy awareness and in her memory everything associated with the #JennaStrong Fall Classic will be purple, as purple is the international color for epilepsy. Everything from the bib numbers to the awards will be purple. Wilmington College has asked all teams/participants to wear some form of purple for the event that will celebrate Jenna and raise awareness.
Q: Talk about the #JennaStrong Fall Classic and what it means to you?
Danelle: Jenna’s race is coming up this year at Wilmington College in Ohio, and we will be in attendance. This will be our second year running in the #JennaStrong Fall Classic. After her death, we changed our schedule to include their race that they added last season. I will always remember the amazing athlete Jenna was. The stories I have been able to hear from Lisa are awe-inspiring. Lisa is so inspiring. Jenna’s coach is another person who inspires me. Simply put, it has brought many of us together, our teams together, and has inspired many to live each moment to our fullest.
I am blessed to wear a Run Jenna Strong charm and Angel Wing every moment of the day. The day still brings tears to my eyes, but I am blessed to have these great relationships formed through this tragedy last August.
Q: Any final comments?
Danelle: Lisa once said to me “thank you for being an angel”. I did not feel like an angel, and still don’t. I was doing what I love to do. I love taking care of people, investing in others and watching them grow. I love being a nurse to help when something is wrong. On that day, I was able to help, but the outcome does make me sad. So often we like to control situations, but as a nurse and coach, I am learning more and more that we can’t. God is in control, and we are to be ready to help when needed. That day, I was ready to help when needed. I worked, I used all I knew, and did all I could. That day Jenna received her wings.
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The United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) is a national organization that exists to provide quality athletic competition on a regional and national level. The USCAA focuses specifically on smaller institutions of higher learning and their student-athletes. The association believes that all athletes and programs deserve the same national opportunities as larger institutions. SMWC is an organization that can provide those opportunities.
SMWC's teams are known as the "Pomeroys." Their name was chosen in memory of alumna and faculty member Sister Mary Joseph Pomeroy, a Sister of Providence, who was a great advocate of athletics and physical fitness. The name "Pomeroy" is not so much a thing, but a spirit of athletic excellence and sportsmanship.