Dwayne Mitchell was at his grandmother’s house in Southwest Miami-Dade for the weekend when he started coughing loudly enough to alarm his family.
Mitchell, 18, and approaching high school graduation, was found unresponsive May 16 in the guest room. His heart stopped beating. His older brother rushed to his side and did CPR while paramedics were on their way.
On the way to the hospital, the athletic young man — a wide receiver before a leg injury slowed him down — went into cardiac arrest for about 20 minutes. His brain swelled.
The senior at G. Holmes Braddock High School in West Kendall remains in a coma at Promise Hospital in Miami Lakes, a long-term acute-care center that opened in May. Machines help him breathe most of the day.
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Mitchell had contracted a viral infection, and tests revealed he has a rare heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which had gone undetected.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Christopher Mitchell, Dwayne’s father and a detective in the Miami Beach Police Department. “It’s been so challenging, I think I’ve shed enough tears in the last few weeks. I don’t think I have any tears left to shed.”
Christopher Mitchell and his wife, Shantell, a fellow police officer, have been by Dwayne’s side along with their four other children. Every day is a challenge. Dwayne’s father accepted his son’s high school diploma, and his siblings have struggled with seeing their brother hooked up to machines in a hospital.
Dwayne Mitchell has had small victories in recent weeks. He can breathe on his own without complications for about three hours a day. He responds to pain on his left side. He coughs and yawns. All good signs, according to doctors.
But his father said his son has a long way to go.
“We’ve got more than $105,000 in medical expenses, and he’s nowhere near the finish line,” Christopher Mitchell said.
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Dwayne’s medical mounting medical bills. His insurance only covers about half of the costs.
In about three weeks since the page was started, nearly $31,000 has come in.
“I was amazed. I was speechless,” Christopher Mitchell said.
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a rare condition that can be detected through an electrocardiogram (EKG), but this test isn’t required as part of physicals that student athletes undergo.
Groups like the Breanna Vergara Foundation, named after an 11-year-old dancer who unexpectedly died from sudden cardiac arrest in December, have been raising awareness and encouraging parents to have their children tested. Vergara also had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome that had not been diagnosed.
Christopher Mitchell said the Miami Beach Police Department, where he and his wife met, has been supportive. He’s never dealt with anything like this in his life, he said, and the family prays for Dwayne’s recovery. And it is not easy explaining the situation to Dwayne’s younger siblings.
“Dwayne’s a little sick, and he’s going to be OK,” Christopher tells his children. “And he’s going to get better.”
Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is offering free EKG appointments to middle and high school students. For more information, call (855) MCH-EKGS or (855) 624-3547.