Risco folks honored for helping save life of basketball official

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Risco School District honored its hometown heroes with a special ceremony Friday afternoon. The heroes helped save the life of basketball referee Donnie Jenkins on Jan. 31 when Jenkins had a heart attack. Pictured with Jenkins (center) are Mary Ann Stephens, Kristen Presley, Christi Pipkin, Greg Bixler, CJ Blankenship, Bert Todd, Austin White and Amy Baker. Also assisting and honored were Jeremy Lawson, Eric Garris, Sara Patterson, Walter Dale and Shannon Foster.
Jill Bock, Standard-Democrat

RISCO, Mo. — Donnie Jenkins found himself back at the Risco High School gym Friday afternoon, but this time under very different circumstances. Friday was an opportunity to honor some hometown heroes, a group of men, women and one boy who helped save his life.

On Jan. 31, in between basketball games he was refereeing, Jenkins and fellow referee Tracy Stone had gone to relax in the coach’s office. Joining them was 11-year-old CJ Blankenship.

While Stone stepped out of the office, CJ and Jenkins were talking when Jenkins suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed. CJ ran for help. Stone was the first to arrive, others quickly followed.

Using the school’s defibrillator and CPR, those who responded restarted Jenkins’ heart.

As students listened from the bleachers Friday afternoon, Sheila Burnett explained to them, “heroes are all around. Today we have some hometown heroes here with us. Ordinary people who performed extraordinary acts of bravery. Some trained to act, others following instinct, still others who just did the right thing. All of them with one goal in mind — to save a life.”

Stone, who has officiated with Jenkins for some 20 years and is his cousin, asked the students to remember two words — patience and alignment.

“Things may not happen when you think they are suppose to happen but they will happen when they are suppose to happen,” he said.

He noted the Risco Tigers were having an excellent season (the team finished with a 25-3 record) drawing a large crowd to the game that night.

Stone said the school had the foresight to place an AED in the gymnasium. When the call for help came, those who responded included a cardiac nurse, a former New Madrid County emergency medical technician, a registered nurse and an individual who teaches CPR.

“I just want you all to understand if this coach had not been here and this team had not been outstanding, had these people not been in the stands to see an outstanding team, I may be attending my cousin’s funeral,” said Stone, calling this the alignment. “So I want to thank you. Just when you think life is bad, just be patient and great things will happen to you. You may save someone’s life.

Receiving recognition for saving Jenkins’ life were Jeremy Lawson, Mary Ann Stephens, Kristen Presley, Christi Pipkin, Eric Garris, Greg Bixler, Bert Todd, Austin White, Sara Patterson, Walter Dale, Shannon Foster, Amy Baker and CJ Blankenship.

CJ, a fifth grader at Risco, received additional accolades.

New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens, a Risco native, praised CJ’s courage in an emergency situation and made him an honorary sheriff’s deputy. Risco alumnus and First District Commissioner Barry Aycock and Presiding Commissioner Mark Baker also honored CJ with Baker offering to make CJ an honorary county commissioner.

Don Rone and his wife, Myra, presented CJ with framed proclamations, one from the Missouri House of Representatives and another from the Missouri Senate. In the spirit of the occasion, Rone also promised to take CJ on the floor of the House of Representatives and introduce him to the members.

C.J., the son of Brandon and Staci Blankenship, admitted to being surprised at all the attention. While he appreciated the praise, CJ added he was glad to see Jenkins was recovering.

“And I pray that he gets better,” he said.

Also speaking was Jerry Lathum with the New Madrid County Health Department. Lathum spoke about the efforts by the health department to place the life-saving equipment in rural areas that needed or could use one, including Risco High School. He also urged the audience to become more aware of defibrillators in public places and learn how to use them.

After a performance of the award-winning skit by the Risco Junior Beta Club, Jenkins brought the day’s events to a close.

“I would like to thank God for looking over me that night. That night I was at the right place,” Jenkins said, then adding with a grin. “I figure Risco saved my life so the (Missouri State High School Athletic) Association probably will send me down south next time. But I’m glad to be standing here today.”

CJ Blankenship listens as Myra Rone reads the proclamation from the Missouri Legislature honoring the Risco fifth grader. CJ was one of several people honored for helping save the life of Donnie Jenkins, a basketball referee who collapsed at the school on Jan. 31 following a massive heart attack. Also pictured is Rep. Don Rone, who also presented CJ with a proclamation from the Missouri Senate.
Jill Bock, Standard-Democrat