When Kalles Junior High School ninth-grader William “Kent” Arnold showed up at the LA Fitness gym in South Hill on Aug. 29, he planned to spend a normal evening lifting weights and playing racquetball with his father.
But that normal day was turned upside down when Kent’s father, 49-year-old Mike Arnold, couldn’t catch his breath while playing his usual game of racquetball.
“He was playing racquetball and he quit because he couldn’t breathe,” recalled Kent, 14. “As we were walking to the car, he kept stopping.”
They both got into Mike’s Mazda Miata, where Kent said his father took off the emergency break off and put the car into gear. Kent knew something was very wrong when his father’s attack started.
“It sounded like he was having an asthma attack,” the teenager said.
Immediately, Kent took action. The first thing he did was activate the car’s parking brake and turn off the ignition. Then, remaining calm, Kent unlocked the trunk of the car to retrieve his father’s phone from his gym bag. After dialing 911, Kent enlisted the help of other people in the parking lot to help get his dad — who was still shaking — out of the car and onto the ground.
Mike’s head was elevated, and then Kent felt around his father’s ribcage and started performing CPR.
I was pretty scared (in) my mind but I knew I had to stay calm.
William “Kent” Arnold, student at Kalles Junior High School
During CPR, Kent said his father gasped, but then “went back down.”
“I was pretty scared (in) my mind but I knew I had to stay calm,” Kent said.
Firefighters were first on the scene, about two minutes after Kent started CPR. Mike was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. There, his family learned he suffered a heart attack. He was in a coma for eight days, but then stabilized.
When he woke up, Mike said he couldn’t remember what happened. His most significant last memory was talking to his wife, Tamiko, about Seattle Thunderbirds tickets.
“I don’t have any memory (of that day),” said Mike. “Or a few days before that. I only know what people have told me.”
While Mike, who said he had no history of heart problems, doesn’t remember the incident, he understands how serious it was, and what could have been if his son’s actions hadn’t kept his blood circulating.
“I was basically dead when they put me in the ambulance,” Mike said. “If my blood wasn’t flowing during that time, I would have been a vegetable.”
Kent’s knowledge of what to do came from a health class he took in eighth grade, where CPR training is required by the Puyallup School District.
It’s pretty humbling. So far he hasn’t held it over my head. I’m proud of him at the same time, both for me and everyone else he could help.
Debra Kafentzis, a teacher at Kalles Junior High, is a certified instructor through the American Red Cross and taught the health class to Kent the school year prior.
“I was just so proud of him and that he was able to think quick on his feet and be able to process what he needed to do in order to act quickly,” Kafentzis said. “Time is so critical and the quicker you act the better chance you have at saving someone’s life.”
As a student at Kalles, Kent plays the trumpet and piano and enjoys learning math, hoping to someday work with computers. Next year, he’ll attend high school at Emerald Ridge.
Now, Mike is back home with his wife and son in South Hill, where he continues to recover and gain back his strength as he works from home as a software engineer for GE Healthcare.
Together, Kent and Mike enjoy playing video games together and going on trips. Their most recent road trip was a jaunt through the Key Peninsula.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Mike said about his son’s quick thinking. “So far he hasn’t held it over my head. I’m proud of him at the same time, both for me and everyone else he could help.”
Mike returned for the first time to the gym last week. While he was there, one man stopped him to say that he was there that day, and that Kent’s actions didn’t go unnoticed.
“Everyone I talked to has said they were very impressed (with Kent),” Mike said. “ I’m very thankful.”