John’s Journal: Coach’s Heart Is Back On The Sideline
Waseca’s Wendland Returns A Year After Collapsing
Posted: Monday, September 12, 2022 - 12:12 PM
Almost exactly one year ago I chatted on the phone with Waseca head football coach Brad Wendland. The story that I posted here on Sept. 15, 2021, detailed the night, two weeks earlier, when Brad’s heart stopped beating on the home sideline during the season opener against St. Peter. (Read that story here: https://tinyurl.com/4ntetevu )
We had another phone conversation last week, a couple days before the Bluejays hosted Marshall in Wendland’s first game back on the home sideline. Last fall, once he was released from a hospital in Mankato, he stayed home during the second and third games of the season. After that he watched games from the press box, calling offensive plays into his headset.
Watching from the press box was strange, he said, “but who am I to complain?”
Indeed. Wendland knows how fortunate he is. When he collapsed on the sideline, the cause was ventricular tachycardia, a heart rhythm issue caused by irregular electrical signals. Athletic trainers from Waseca and St. Peter, along with an emergency-room nurse who came down from the stands, saved his life, performing chest compressions and using an automated external defibrillator (AED).
Surgeons surgically implanted a small AED next to his heart, and that’s what saved his life the second time he collapsed, months later. Wendland, 49, who teaches U.S. history and psychology, was in his classroom on Jan. 31.
“It was fourth hour, I was having a great day teaching, I had worked out that morning. I was getting ready to stand up and it happened in front of the kids. I hated that they had to see that.”
In both episodes, his resting heart rate immediately jumped to about 300 beats per minute. The blood in his body raced to his heart, his brain didn’t receive any blood, he passed out and his heart stopped.
The second time he collapsed, the internal AED kicked in, his heart returned to a proper rhythm and he was taken to the hospital. Another surgical procedure was performed in March, his medication was adjusted, and Wendland and his doctors are confident that he is in the clear.
Between a 45-13 Week 1 victory at St. Peter and Friday’s game with Marshall, Wendland met with his cardiologist.
“He’s normally very stoic, very subdued, but this time he was very upbeat, very positive about my situation. He said, ‘You can’t just sit around and wait for bad things to happen. If you’re a coach, go coach. If you’re a teacher, go teach.’ ”
Another small device implanted near Brad’s heart monitors his heartbeat and sends the information directly to his doctors in Mankato.
“The surgery worked,” he said.
Friday’s game, much of it played in a steady rain, didn’t go the Bluejays’ way. They took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 24-yard touchdown run by Christian Rodriguez, and during a game thick with turnovers, Marshall scored early in the fourth quarter when Mason Eickhoff ran into the end zone from four yards and Tyler Maeyaert threw to Gavin Schaefer for the go-ahead two-point conversion.
Waseca finished 9-2 last season, losing to Fairmont in the regular season as well as in the Class 3A Section 3 championship game. The Bluejays, who have eight underclassmen starting on defense, will play at Tri-City United in Montgomery on Friday.
Wendland was frustrated after the loss to Marshall while realizing the season is still young.
“It's an early-season loss to a 4A team and how we react to it is a big deal,” he said. “I believe in these kids and I know they're going to react well.”
The coach, in his 17th season in charge of the Bluejays, has seen countless players come through the football program.
“You coach these guys since they’re in flag football,” he said. “It’s community, it’s small-town, rural Minnesota football. You see them around town, you see them at your varsity games when they’re little, and then before you know it they’re on your team.”
And they’re also on the sideline. Next to their coach.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org