High School Sports

Mark Story: Identical twins Gardner and Jon Wes Adams now share something else: Each alive after his heart stopped beating

Jon Wes Adams, left, and his twin brother, Gardner, posed at the Arboretum, where Jon Wes collapsed last year. Thanks to that near-tragedy, Gard ner's heart was restarted after he collapsed a month ago.
Jon Wes Adams, left, and his twin brother, Gardner, posed at the Arboretum, where Jon Wes collapsed last year. Thanks to that near-tragedy, Gard ner's heart was restarted after he collapsed a month ago. Herald-Leader

In their days playing baseball together at Lafayette High School and then Asbury University, identical twins Gardner and Jon Wes Adams picked up the nicknames 'T-1' and 'T-2.'

"'Terminator 1' and 'Terminator 2' because of our work ethic," Gardner says. "All the time, we were just working out."

Says Jon Wes: "We would go out in the wintertime, 30 degrees, and run 5, 6 miles in shorts and T-shirts just because it made running harder."

The Adams twins, each now 5-foot-10 and around 170 pounds, would seem the least likely people on Earth to both go into cardiac arrest before their 27th birthdays.

More from Mark Story

*****

When Jon Wes' family invited him out to eat on the night of June 28, 2014, he said no. A running enthusiast dating to his days competing in cross country for Lafayette, Jon Wes, then 25, instead headed for the Arboretum to get in "4 or 5 miles."

Once there, he recalls starting his run.

The next thing he remembers is waking up in the University of Kentucky hospital.

That night, Sharon Boone was en route from her home in Buckhannon, W.Va., to Louisville with her sister-in-law, Joy. Though running late, they stopped at the Arboretum in Lexington just to see it. There was a big crowd for a concert.

As the band played, Sharon noticed a young man in a black T-shirt and black shorts running. He reminded her of her son, also a runner.

When the man in black, Jon Wes, came back around the course a second time, Sharon saw him, staggering, crash into the feet of a group of people sitting in lawn chairs.

"People started yelling for a doctor," Boone says, "and my sister-in-law is a physician."

On the ground, Jon Wes' body was convulsing.

Some in the gathered crowd thought Jon Wes was having a seizure and argued he should not be touched. Joy Boone saw that he was not breathing and commenced CPR.

Jon Wes has no memory that as many as four different people helped perform CPR on him for some 20 minutes at the Arboretum.

Nor does he remember the emergency medical technicians trying to shock his heart back into its normal rhythm on the ambulance ride to the UK hospital.

Placed in a medically induced coma, Jon Wes did not know that, at one point, his family was told he had no better than a 30 percent chance of living.

What he does remember is waking up in the hospital and seeing his father, Wesley, sitting in the corner of the room. In fact, Jon Wes kept waking up and asking the same question over and over.

"I remember asking him 'Where am I?'" Jon Wes says. "He said 'The hospital.' Then I'd go back to sleep, and I'd wake up: 'Where am I?' (He said) 'You're in the hospital.' 'What happened?' (He said) 'You were running and collapsed and your heart stopped beating.'"

*****

Figuring out why the heart of a physically fit 25-year-old would just stop beating was a challenge for UK doctors Alison Bailey and Samy Claude Elayi.

Electrocardiograms performed on Jon Wes and, eventually, Gardner helped lead to a surprising diagnosis — a life-threatening heart-rhythm disorder known as Brugada syndrome that most commonly afflicts people of Asian descent.

"It is fairly rare," Elayi said of Brugada, which is often an inherited condition. "Chances are probably one in a thousand."

What makes Brugada syndrome tricky is that the factors that initiate the disruption of the heart's rhythm are undetermined.

Given that uncertainty, Elayi and Bailey (who has subsequently left UK) made the decision to insert into the chest of Jon Wes an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. The purpose of that device is to shock the heart back into rhythm if it ever stops beating.

Since Gardner was his identical twin, the UK doctors preemptively installed an ICD in his chest, too.

Last month, Gardner Adams had reason to feel intensely grateful for that decision.

*****

After Jon Wes collapsed, doctors told the twins they could continue to run for exercise, but encouraged them not to do so alone. This summer, Gardner was running 25 miles a week in daily increments of 35 or 40 minutes (4 to 5 miles).

On Aug. 15, Gardner went for a run in a park in Anderson County, where he and his wife, Mary Ann, now live. When Gardner runs, Mary Ann walks the course from the opposite direction. That way, they meet mid-route and she knows he's OK.

This time, "just four minutes in, I really can't breathe that well," Gardner says. "I'm starting to get really light-headed, I'm starting to get really dizzy. I know I am about to drop."

When Gardner woke up, he was lying face down on the asphalt.

"My hand was busted up," he said. "I had a nice little cut under my eye. My ear, I guess when I fell, it folded. And then my right shoulder and the right side of my ribs were dirty."

Gardner was not passed out long. "I had just passed somebody (running) and, when I got up, they were still behind me," he says.

Mary Ann did not see her husband fall. He figures it was about a minute after he collapsed when she came into his view.

She was immediately alarmed. "He was walking, and he never walks until he's done running," Mary Ann said. "And (his complexion) was very white."

After Gardner explained what happened, Mary Ann ran and got the couple's car. They drove straight to the UK hospital.

"When we got there, in the ICU, one of the (doctors) came in and they interrogated my (ICD)," Gardner says. "They said 'Mr. Adams, we are sorry, but it looks like you did have a (cardiac) episode. At 7:45 (p.m.), you went into cardiac arrest and your ICD kicked in and sent one shock.'"

*****

Now that they have each been in cardiac arrest, the Adams twins are still making sense of living with a condition that could cause their hearts to stop beating at any moment.

It may be toughest on their parents, Wesley and Bridget Adams. "If we call one of (the twins), or text them, and they don't immediately respond, we sort of freak out," Wesley says.

Gardner says his mom "is a lot more protective of us now than she ever was when we were 1 or 2 years old."

Wesley Adams and the twins' younger brother, Dean, have also been diagnosed with Brugada syndrome. Wesley, 55, recently had an ICD implanted. Dean, 24, has not yet, "but we're working on him," Gardner says.

Knowing that CPR performed by strangers saved the life of Jon Wes, the twins are advocating that learning the resuscitation skills become a mandatory requirement to graduate high school in Kentucky. Knowing that a normal athletic physical examination never detected their Brugada syndrome, they'd like for EKGs to be required before anyone can play high school or college sports.

"I could be in the ground somewhere," Gardner says. "I'm just very thankful for UK and how far medicine has come."

In his mind, Jon Wes sometimes goes back to that summer night in 2014 when he interrupted a concert at the Arboretum by crashing to the ground.

"The band playing was called Young At Heart," he said. "I thought that was kind of ironic."

  Comments