Dorene Crist remembers exactly how that day in March 2021 went.
Plagued by the pandemic, she worked from the family home in Torrance, Southern California.
Crist’s daughter, Courtney Shoda, a 2018 graduate of Sonoma State University and a key defender for the women’s soccer team, lived at home, worked as an ER technician and was looking to become a nurse.
Crist remembers hugging Courtney and teasing her about her mane of curly brown hair. She told him she should be a cousin for Halloween.
She recalls Courtney returning from the gym that night and heading to her room as Crist started dinner.
And the next part she will never forget.
His phone rang. He was a new friend of Courtney’s. Crist was cooking dinner, but decided to resume anyway because she assumed they would be brainstorming what to get Courtney for her birthday in a little over a week.
“She said, ‘Dorene, I need you to go upstairs calmly,'” Crist recalled the friend telling her. “‘There’s something wrong with Courtney.'”
“I started screaming”
Courtney had collapsed in her bedroom during a FaceTime call with her friend. She wasn’t breathing. His heart had stopped.
“I started screaming for my husband and called 911,” she said. “He started doing CPR.”
It was the second time in four years that Courtney’s heart had suddenly stopped.
In 2017, Courtney was a top manager for the Sonoma State University women’s soccer team.
In three years on the team, Courtney played bigger than her 5-foot frame and drove the defensive back line with her seemingly limitless work ethic.
But during an early season practice at the start of her senior year, Courtney trapped a ball with her chest, threw a shot into the net and collapsed.
Doctors diagnosed him with commotio cordis, meaning the brutal impact caused his heart to stop. They told him his college football career was over.
She wore a heart monitor for a while, but slowly got back into training, pushing herself.
Nothing seemed to go wrong.
She graduated from Sonoma State in 2018, moved to Torrance.
Despite a busy work schedule, it was not uncommon for her to train for several hours a day.
Then on March 3, 2021, while her mother was cooking dinner downstairs and Courtney was on FaceTime with her friend, her heart stopped again.
Even after their previous scare, Crist said what happened with Courtney in the days and weeks that followed was unfathomable.
“I wouldn’t have, in my wildest dreams, thought my 24-year-old daughter was about to have 16 cardiac arrests.”
Rescuers transported Courtney from her room to the hospital.
In the hospital, Courtney’s heart kept stopping. She coded while Crist and her husband Peter stood by her bedside.
It was not long after that Crist was faced with the unimaginable.
“I’ll never forget this girl named Sylvia saying ‘I’m from a transplant,'” Crist said. “My husband and I freaked out, ‘What do you mean by a transplant? What are you talking about? We don’t need a transplant.
But Courtney did.
His 24-year-old heart, the heart of a college footballer, was damaged beyond repair.
She was placed on a machine that pumped her blood out of her body to a heart-lung machine that removed carbon dioxide before pumping oxygenated blood back inside.
The machine allows blood to bypass the heart and lungs, allowing them to rest and heal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It is basically a survival system.
It was unclear what kind of brain damage Courtney suffered while she was in her bedroom, before her mother and stepfather got to her.
His family, friends and doctors just had to wait.
On March 19, nearly two weeks after her collapse, Courtney woke up.
But she was still in extremely poor health.
An operation on his vocal cords caused bleeding which has not stopped. The doctors decided to intubate and put her to sleep so that her neck would remain stable and she would remain a viable candidate for a heart transplant.
Under sedation, Crist’s vivacious daughter fell silent again, but this time to prepare her body for a new heart.
And on April 24, 2021, Crist was notified that officials had found a heart that would work for her daughter.
It was the second time in a few days that they had received such a call. The first core was later found to be inadequate.
But this time it was a hit.
Fallen too long
Courtney, a once-powerful and super-fit defender stuck in a 5-foot frame, handled the operation well.
But her system was damaged between the time her friend saw her break down onscreen and the time her mother and stepfather joined her.