Back on track

It was the last race of the day. The crowd, bundled up in sweaters and coats, waited for the final runners to cross the finish line of the district cross country meet in October 2002. Track and Cross Country Coach Steve Telaneus stood near the finish. His 11-year-old son Ben waited alongside him. Suddenly, Steve collapsed. He was having a heart attack.

Steve’s wife, Ellen Telaneus, was helping with scorekeeping when someone came running towards her explaining what had happened. She rushed to the top of the levy where her husband lay. She realized his heart wasn’t beating. As the crowd grew larger around them, Ellen alternated administering CPR to her husband with one of the parents, who was also a paramedic. Hundreds of people stood watching.

Twenty minutes later, the ambulance arrived. The medics began working, attaching a tube to aid his breathing. But his heart still wasn’t beating. The medics then rushed Steve to the Presbyterian Hospital in Denton. For 30 minutes, he did not have a heart rate. His brain did not have oxygen.

“So, in essence, I was dead,” Steve said.

Back at the meet, the crowd formed a circle. They began to pray.

The doctors later discovered that a piece of plaque had gone into one of the major arteries in Steve’s heart. The artery is nicknamed the “widowmaker” because most people die if it is blocked.

But it wasn’t Steve’s time. Halfway to the hospital, the medics found a pulse. For the next 24 hours, he was alive but in a coma.

“During that time, they didn’t know if he would ever wake up,” Ellen said.

***

At 8:55 a.m. the following morning, Steve’s vital signs began getting worse. His brain looked like it was shutting down. At the same time that morning, the pastor at Steve’s church explained the incident to the congregation. At 8:55 a.m., the church prayed he would open his eyes.

Back at the hospital, the doctors ushered Ellen out of the hospital room. Okay, it’s time to plan a funeral, she thought.

A few minutes passed. Then the nurse walked into the waiting room.

“Mrs. Telaneus, get in here,” she said.

Thinking this was the end, Ellen stepped into the room towards her husband.

Then, he opened his eyes.

Ellen was stunned. The doctors asked him to hold up two fingers, and he did. Although still breathing through a tube, he was able to understand commands.
            “Our family calls it the ‘8:55 Miracle,’” Ellen said. “There was that miracle of the body of believers praying and the Lord answering.”

For the next three weeks, Steve remained in the hospital. During this time, he relayed stories to his sister-in-law Amy about what he had seen while in the coma. Sitting next to him, Amy listened as he spoke.

“Amy, did I die?” he asked.

“Well, Steve, I think you did,” she replied.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “I wanted to stay, but I heard a voice say, ‘You have to go back. It is not your time. I have more for you to do.’”

The lack of oxygen to his brain left Steve with brain damage. For this reason, he doesn’t remember saying these things, but he said he is grateful for that.

“I feel like my memories of seeing Glory have been taken from me because if I knew Glory, I wouldn’t want to be here at all,” Steve said.

The resulting brain damage left Steve with some amnesia and short-term memory loss. He couldn’t remember all of his children at first. He didn’t know what he liked and what he didn’t. He couldn’t read a page of writing in less than an hour. He couldn’t remember how to ride a bike or shoot a basketball. He didn’t know how much pressure to use when holding an object.

“I picked up a milk carton and smashed it because I didn’t know what a milk carton was,” Steve said.

After being released from the hospital, Steve went home to recover. He said he slept constantly.

Steve was then admitted to a rehabilitation center in McKinney where he relearned everyday tasks. The doctors thought it would take at least a year before he could teach and coach again. But Steve thought otherwise.

He worked eight hours each day at the rehabilitation center, trying to relearn what he had forgotten. By January, Steve was back teaching. He transitioned into his job by just attending his second period Biology class for the first five weeks and then adding in coaching later on.

During his recovery, Steve struggled with impulse control. Before the heart attack, he said he had a relatively easygoing personality. But during the first two years after the incident, Steve said he was more short-tempered than normal. He said this was especially difficult for his children.

“At first, they went through thinking they lost me completely, and then they lived with this period of time when they didn’t know if I would ever be Dad again,” Steve said. “So you couldn’t ask them to go through anything more difficult.”

Although this was a tough time for the Telaneus family, Ellen said it also helped strengthen them.

“I say that because in each one of our hearts it convinced us of who God is and how he loves us and how he provides for us,” Ellen said.

***

October 2012 marked the 10-year anniversary of Steve’s heart attack. Since then, he has overcome many difficulties that came from the brain damage. He can now read normally again, and his memory has improved.

In coaching, Steve has achieved many accomplishments since the heart attack. Several of his teams have been state medalists, including this year’s girls’ cross country team, who got third in state. Also, one of his runners, Craig Lutz, won the national championship for cross country a few years ago.

“One of my goals when I started out in the 80’s was to win 50 district championships,” Steve said. “I’m at 53 now.”

However, everything is not back to the way it was before the incident. Steve said he has to really concentrate and write a lot of things down in order to remember them. Before the heart attack, he could remember all of his runners’ best times, which helped him make workouts for each runner in his head.

“I can’t do that anymore,” Steve said. “So that’s why I had to relearn to coach a different way because I have a different brain.”

Steve also said that when tired, he stutters a little bit and sometimes can forget how to pronounce certain words.

But Steve has a story to tell.

He said that he believes there is a reason why he was given a second chance to live. Not knowing what that reason is has encouraged him to live life as though each moment could be why he is still here.

“Today at workout coaching my kids might have been the reason,” Steve said. “I don’t know that. But I do feel obligated [to live that way] because I’m here, and it’s a gift that I’m here.”

With this belief in mind, Steve has spoken at churches and FCA meetings. There, he spreads his story and his message.

 “I’m ready,” Steve said. “Take me home, but I know my time is still here.”