Champions of the Heart - Good Samaritans help save Mike Garland following medical emergency, crash

Teamwork is at the heart of a lot of special things.
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 6:56 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Teamwork is at the heart of a lot of special things.

It’s been at the heart of a long and successful career for Michigan State University assistant basketball coach Mike Garland. He helped Tom Izzo coach the Spartans to 19 NCAA tournaments, 10 Big Ten Championships, seven Final Fours and a National Championship.

Garland retired several months ago. Little did he know that a team of strangers would have the heart to save his.

You can watch Ann Emmerich’s full story in the video player above.

Garland calls Izzo his best friend. Their friendship goes back 50 years to when they were teammates at Northern Michigan University.

“I’m here because of a promise I made to him,” Garland said. “One day, he said, ‘One day, I’m going to be a big time coach and I need you to come and help me.’”

Over the years, their hearts turned boys into men and teams into champions.

“After we won the National Championship, Muhammed Ali invited us to his house for his son’s birthday,” Garland said.

Then there was the first-ever basketball game on an aircraft carrier and meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

“We talked like we’re talking,” Garland recalled. “And in the end we all took a picture together.”

Two weeks into retirement, Garland was driving to the bank with his wife when the electrical system in his heart failed. Their vehicle struck a tree.

“I look over at him and he’s slumped, so I’m like, no, this can’t be happening,” Cynthia Garland recalled. “So I’m speaking to God like, these are our latter days, he just retired, how can you take him from me now? And then they came up right at that moment. He answered my prayer. He brought the angels.”

The angels were Jason Blackwell and John Drolett.

Blackwell was the first to stop and call 911.

Together, the two strangers worked together to bring Mike Garland back. Blackwell breathed into his lungs and Drolett pumped his heart until deputies took over.

With Garland showing no signs of life, deputies continued CPR and used a defibrillator to try to get his heart beating.

Eight minutes into the response, Garland was still not breathing on his own. Medics gave him another shock and took him to the hospital.

He spent more than 24 hours on a ventilator and when he woke up, doctors said it was amazing he was alive.

“One of the doctors in the hospital said, ‘If you had millions of dollars, and you knew that this was going to happen to you, and you lined everything up to protect yourself,’ he said, ‘I don’t know if it could still work out for you,’” Garland said.

“The doctor said if we had been at home, he probably wouldn’t have made it,” Cynthia Garland said.

He made it because within seconds, two men stopped, stepped up and took action.

“As I was told, a lot of people drove right by me,” Garland said. “And you could have did the same but you chose not to. You chose to be a decent human being.”

“I’m convinced that there are millions of people out there that would jump in to do what I did and what Jason Blackwell did in this situation,” Drolett said. “They just weren’t presented the opportunity. We were.”

“It was like a group of teams and they all worked so well together,” Izzo said. “And in that video, you can see one passing the baton to the other, who passes it to the other it was amazing.”

With a new appreciation for life and a hearth known for building championship teams, Garland asked the sheriff to assemble the team of people of who never gave up on him -- the champions of his heart. Each and every first responder, from the 911 operator to the doctors and nurses.

“It took teamwork and it’s what I call maximum execution,” Garland said. “That’s what Michigan State basketball program has been about, and that’s what happened that saved my life.”

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