College Sports

Cheating death – Oakdale, MJC star thankful to be alive

Spencer Thomas (right) and Jeff Nunes (left) in Oakdale California on January 15, 2016.
Spencer Thomas (right) and Jeff Nunes (left) in Oakdale California on January 15, 2016.

Spencer Thomas doesn’t remember anything about Nov. 5, the day his heart stopped beating.

He was told he attended classes at Modesto Junior College, participated in baseball practice and was sitting down for pizza that night with friends to watch a televised football game. His next conscious thought was two nights later at Memorial Hospital.

“I kept asking, ‘What happened?’ a lot,” Thomas recalled. “I thought I was in a car accident.”

Thomas, 21, had suffered cardiac arrest. A former football star at Oakdale High School and a quarterback and outfielder at MJC – a student-athlete in life’s prime – essentially died for about 20 minutes.

Two months later, he sits at a park in downtown Oakdale next to Jeff Nunes, the stepfather of Spencer’s friend Colt Parshall. They have an unbreakable bond. Nunes, 46, administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and saved Thomas’ life.

“I’m a high-strung guy,” said Nunes, the father of two sons. “I stay on my boys about little things. But after this, the little things don’t mean squat.”

Nunes, a lineman for 15 years for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., must take a CPR refresher course each year.

“The lady who led the class told us, ‘Someone in this room will use this someday,’ ” he said.

On Nov. 5, a carefree night was planned at Nunes’ Oakdale home for Thomas and MJC baseball buddies Parshall, Robby Steves, Eddie Machado and Trenton Pierson. Everything changed when Nunes, in an adjacent room, thought the TV had fallen off its bracket.

“I could tell by how Colt voiced my name that something wasn’t right,” Nunes said.

Thomas was stricken in his chair and fell to the floor. Nunes told the boys to call 911 and immediately put his CPR training to use. He periodically lowered his ear to Thomas’ nose to check his breathing. Nunes revived Thomas once, lost him, again revived him and lost him as the ambulance approached.

“I could hear the ambulance coming. It seemed like an hour hearing those sirens,” Nunes said.

Ambulance personnel Adam French, Jeremy Tankersley, Michael Stetson and Lee Boyden continued to work on Thomas and eventually got a heartbeat and a rhythm. Soon they were off to Memorial.

“Everyone says Jeff saved Spencer’s life,” said Stephanie Thomas, Spencer’s mom. “He had no pulse for 20 minutes.”

It was discovered later that Thomas was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. He had an extra electrical pathway between his heart’s upper and lower chambers, which can cause a rapid heartbeat. Surgeons basically burned off the additional pathway last week.

“I’m a little sore, but I feel fine,” Thomas said.

Thomas lay unconscious in the hospital for two days after the cardiac arrest. His condition cast a pall over the Oakdale crowd Nov. 6 as the Mustangs, including Spencer’s younger brother Zac, met Central Catholic in an important game. Spencer, a three-year starting quarterback, guided Oakdale to a state final in 2012.

Scott Thomas, Spencer’s father, approached the hospital bed two nights after his son nearly died and squeezed his hand three times. It was a family custom meaning, “I love you,” and the father asked the son to squeeze back. He did, and his eyes soon opened.

To no one’s surprise, Thomas views life from a different prism these days.

“You can’t pay back someone who saved your life,” he said. “It is amazing how everything fell into place for me. I know he (Nunes) and our families have gotten closer. It’s a blessing.”

A benefit spaghetti dinner for Thomas was held in Oakdale on Jan. 2. More than 300 attended. A grateful community opened its arms to one of its own.

Thomas expects to return this season to the MJC baseball team, where he batted .279 as an outfielder last spring. His football career is over. He started four injury-plagued games at quarterback in 2014.

More importantly, his life continues. He won’t be the same and neither will those around him.

“I’m not a religious guy,” Nunes said. “But someone was watching over myself and this guy. It could have gone another route. We’re just thankful.”

And Thomas nodded.