LUMBERTON — The death of a popular paramedic who loved to play golf at Pinecrest Country Club is likely the reason Willie Jacobs is alive today so that he can continue his love affair with the game.
A few months after Hal Byrd died in early 2016, a defibrillator was placed in the pro shop at the Pinecrest CC golf course in his honor, and three months ago it was used to bring Jacobs back to life after he suffered a massive heart attack while standing with friends on the green of hole No. 1.
“Along with the Lord and everyone doing their jobs, that defibrillator was a large part of why Willie is breathing today, so in his own way, Hal Byrd saved one more life as a paramedic,” said Dwight Gane, the head professional at Pinecrest Country Club.
Byrd, 54 years old at the time, died on April 11, 2016, while playing the sixth hole at Pinecrest.
A few months after his death, fellow members of Lumberton Rescue and EMS, where Byrd had been a paramedic since 2005, decided to honor him by raising money to place defibrillators at key locations. They sold wrist bands for $5 with Byrd’s name and LREMS, and raised enough money quickly to buy two defibrillators, which cost about $2,500 each.
One was placed at Bill Sapp Recreation Center, and the other in Pinecrest Country Club’s pro shop.
“We think that’s what he would have wanted,” Ken Bedell, the unit’s medical captain and Byrd’s close friend, said at the time.
A defibrillator, also called an AED, is a medical device designed to be used by people with no medical background to restart the heart of a person in cardiac arrest.
Jacobs remembers little about that day, or the ones that immediately followed. He was playing with his friend Willie Oxendine, and fell face first, striking his putter, busting his lip and chipping a tooth. Oxendine, a former firefighter, started chest compressions immediately.
Gane was called by phone and, “scared as fire,” loaded up the AED and raced by golf cart 500 yards to the green on No. 1. Chris Jackson, who co-owns the golf course with Gane and is the assistant chief of the St. Pauls Fire Department, joined Gane in the rush to Jacobs.
Jackson then got busy.
“When I hooked the defibrillator up to him, it told me to stop compressions and to shock one time,” Jackson said. “Before the second shock, EMS had already arrived and hooked him to their monitor.
“After we shocked him for the second time, we could see his heart beat and it was perfect.”
Roger Taylor, commander of Lumberton Rescue and EMS and a friend of Byrd’s, was nearby, on N.C. 72, when he heard the call for help. He was there quickly, and joined in the effort to save Jacobs.
He said Jackson and Oxendine already had done what was necessary.
“There ain’t no doubt about it,” Taylor said. “Early defibrillation and early CPR, those are the two things that saved his life.”
Gane, who had a front-row seat to watch it all, agrees.
“Chris Jackson and Willie Oxendine saved his life,” Gane said.
“It was a terrible situation,” Jackson said. “But everything seemed to fall perfectly into place for him to be standing here today. Also, I have used that machine countless times, and I have never seen someone respond that positively.”
Jacobs underwent triple bypass surgery on his heart, spent 13 days in the hospital, and is now back playing golf.
“I was in bad shape, brother,” said Jacobs, who turns 68 on Aug. 26.
Jacobs, a preacher, says it’s a “miracle” that he survived. He gives credit to God, but also to Byrd, a former golfing partner back in the 1990s when the two would often play together at what was then Cliffwood Golf Course.
“I give all the Lord the praise and I think he did it,” he said. “But I believe that my friend Hal’s life and death and us getting that machine was a big part in bringing me back.”
For Taylor, being a part of the lifesaving effort that day was a way to honor his fellow paramedic and friend.
“It’s personal,” he said. “It’s a big deal to us.”
Reach Donnie Douglas at 910-416-5649 or [email protected] Intern Rachel Horrell contributed to this story.