FOR DAD

Arizona softball: Close call pulls them closer

Rodriguez sisters find home at Arizona after almost losing father
2013-05-05T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:32:00Z Arizona softball: Close call pulls them closerPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The three women couldn't get Adam Rodriguez off the recliner, even after he turned purple and his heart stopped beating.

The 911 operator implored Rodriguez's wife and two daughters - one a college sophomore, the other a high school senior - to keep trying.

There was no way to administer CPR unless he was on a flat, hard surface.

At 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, the 56-year-old was practically impossible to budge from the cushy chair in his Scottsdale home, where minutes earlier he'd been watching television on Jan. 1, 2012.

Arizona Wildcats softball player Kelsey Rodriguez, the oldest child and the only one in the family room not crying, calmly put down the phone.

Her kid sister and now-UA teammate, Courtney, who'd been in the corner crying in the fetal position, slipped a pillow underneath his head.

"We made a decision to pull as hard as we could, no matter if we hurt him," said mom Lisa. "Because he was gone."

The three finally dumped him to the floor.

Calmly, Kelsey repeated the 911 operator's CPR instructions to her panicked mother.

Lisa performed the compression technique on his chest, but all the air did was bloat his body.

He was unresponsive.

Where was the ambulance, anyway?

•••

Adam thought he was dreaming, but it felt real.

Someone was asking him a question: "Do you want to stay, or do you want to go home?"

He wanted to go home, to be with his son and two daughters, and with Lisa.

"That's what I got," he said. "I got to go home."

Adam, who had suffered a massive heart attack, was jolted back to life in their living room by an ambulance defibrillator.

The lack of oxygen caused two strokes. He spent 13 days in intensive care, some of them in a medically induced coma, walking the edge between life and death.

Both his cardiologist and neurologist called it a miracle he lived.

Sixteen months later, Adam's speech is slurred - "Pretend I have an accent," he jokes - and he acts more emotional than before. Everyone in the family, it seems, laughs and cries quicker now.

Adam can walk, with occasional help from a walker, and drive. He still takes photos professionally.

He credits his spirituality, and the prayers of his loved ones, with helping him recover.

He knows his life was likely saved by the quick reaction of Lisa and his two girls, who, for some reason, had canceled their New Year's Day plans.

Kelsey, everyone agrees, took charge.

She didn't cry. She didn't panic. After calling 911, she relayed instructions to her mother with such force - using an occasional curse word - that she apologized later.

"It was that fight-or-flight thing - someone's got to step up right now," says Kelsey, 21. "Someone's got to step up right now. In my mind, there was no doubt he was not going to die.

"There wasn't even a chance."

Kelsey hasn't felt that sense in calm before, or since.

She thinks she felt the hand of God.

"I feel like, for sure, Kelsey and my mom saved him," says Courtney, 19.

Says Adam: "I would have died."

•••

For months after the heart attack, the Rodriguezes "walked on eggshells," Lisa says, "thinking, 'When's the next bomb going to drop?'"

Kelsey wanted to be close to home in case it did.

Shortly after his heart attack, Adam told Kelsey - by squeezing her hand - to return to school at University of the Pacific. But by at the end of her sophomore softball season - she was named first-team all-conference both years - Kelsey asked to transfer.

She and Courtney had grown up serving as Arizona State batgirls and hitting in backyard batting cage sessions led by Adam.

The former athlete had been born Raul, but got his nickname, the story goes, because he was faster than an atom. He met Lisa playing racquetball 26 years ago.

"He was always helping us with softball," remembers Courtney, "hitting us grounders."

The girls played together at Seton Catholic High School in Scottsdale. They didn't think they'd play together in college, though, until Kelsey chose the Arizona Wildcats over New Mexico, New Mexico State and San Diego State - all schools within a quick drive of their parents' new home in Gilbert.

The walk-on junior joined Courtney, a freshman who had earned a scholarship to the UA, this year.

"I'm just blessed that they're here," UA coach Mike Candrea says. "And the family is doing well."

Kelsey has started all but one game - sharing time between designated player, first base and catcher - for the Wildcats, who defeated Arizona State 6-4 Saturday night at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Courtney has started more than half the team's games in right field, but has struggled at the plate in her first year.

Not that it matters to her parents.

"Everything changed," Lisa says now. "Life is different.

"We're all together, though. That's the most important thing."

Courtney calls her sister someone who's "always here for me," on the field and off.

Kelsey, who always had different college dreams than her sister, thought they'd travel different paths.

"But now I love it," Kelsey says. "It's wonderful."

Along with son Ryan, a high school junior, Lisa and Adam try to make most home games, including all of this weekend's final home series.

"It's quite a feeling I get - I get overwhelmed by it," Adam says. "I can't believe I'm sitting in the stadium watching my daughters play.

"When I go there, I feel like I'm at home."

On StarNet: Follow all of Arizona's sports teams at azstarnet.com/wildcats

Today

• What: Arizona State at Arizona

• Where: Hillenbrand Stadium

• When: 3 p.m.

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

More UA sports inside

• Wildcats rally again to beat Arizona State in softball. Page B7

• UA baseball loses by a run, one day after being routed Page B7

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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