Jeron Lewis was a senior on the University of Southern Indiana’s basketball team in 2010. In a game against Kentucky Wesleyan in January of that year, Lewis collapsed underneath one of the baskets.
Lewis, 21, hit his head on the court and began convulsing, according to reports from the time. Hours later, after being rushed to a Kentucky hospital, he was dead. An autopsy showed that Lewis had an enlarged heart.
One of the first people to rush to Lewis’ side on Jan. 15, 2010 was David Maldonado, then the head athletic trainer at the University of Southern Indiana. Lewis’ death and the thought that he could have done more still weighs on Maldonado.
“You can read a book, you can hear about things, but you don’t know what you don’t know,” Maldonado, a sports physical therapist and certified athletic trainer, told MMA Fighting. Earlier this month, Maldonado found himself in a very similar situation.
On Nov. 3, during a Legacy Fighting Alliance bout in Houston, fighter Clovis Hancock collapsed in the cage. Maldonado, a cutman for LFA working Hancock’s corner, rushed to his side. Hancock was unconscious, but it was not necessarily the work of his opponent. Something else was amiss, Maldonado realized quickly.
Hancock’s breathing pattern was “disintegrating,” Maldonado said, and it was abnormal. The fighter had no pulse and his color began changing. Maldonado, after consulting the ringside physicians that had joined him in the cage (along with the EMTs), began CPR compressions.
Still hard to look at the pics and videos from last Friday. Specially after all the calls from my family and friends. Thanks everyone for the support! My weight it back up to 213 and I’m feeling great. Can’t wait to start training again! Even though I’ll probably never get in the cage again doesn’t mean I won’t be active! I’ll still be doing #brazilianjiujitsu #superfight / #tournament and #coaching #mma #bjj #muaythai #wrestling #judo #gbwestchase #oathletik #kingsmma #texassubmissionhunter #blessed
“There were all of those factors that would have been more than enough for me to have learned from the past,” Maldonado said.
A nurse who was in the stands entered the cage and helped with intubation, placing a tube down Hancock’s throat to better transport oxygen. Maldonado said he had to pull Hancock’s head off where it was resting on the cage to aid that process. The EMTs hit Hancock with a defibrillator to try and jump start his heart. Then, they set him up to be taken to the ambulance and transported to the hospital.
At the base of the ambulance, Hancock showed responsiveness for the first time, according to Maldonado. The cutman estimated that Hancock had been dead for five minutes.
“While they were trying to get him in the ambulance and that sort of thing, there was a great moment where he did sit up, eyes open,” Maldonado said “And almost in kind of a more legitimate gasping sort of way, he came up. That was obviously an incredible sign that there was something more of a response, kind of like a fighter waking up.”
As Hancock was being loaded into the ambulance, Maldonado said he retreated when he figured he did all that could have been done at that point.
“Then it was pretty much as expected,” Maldonado said. “I pretty much broke down in the middle of a parking garage, kind of realizing all that had taken place, all that was on the line, thinking back on the athlete from before. I was kind of a wreck the rest of the night.”
Hancock, 32, survived that horrifying scene in the cage. He had kidney failure, cardiac arrest and a heart contusion. He told MMA Fighting that it was likely a combination of multiple things, mostly a 45-pound weight cut in order to make the 170-pound welterweight limit. Doctors told him he was severely dehydrated.
Hancock was released from Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital just two days later. Aside from a likely end to his MMA career, Hancock will make a full recovery.
There’s no way, Maldonado said, that his experience with Lewis seven years ago didn’t help him — and Hancock — that night.
“Even without that previous experience of mine, I still would have been only marginally prepared,” Maldonado said. “I would have been able to stay poised, to be focused, to be a lot of different things like that. But I would not have likely recognized some of the things I recognized from seeing it before firsthand if it weren’t from that previous experience.”
Maldonado said he has “relived” Jan. 15, 2010 many times over in his head. He never wanted anyone to be prone on the playing or fighting surface in front of him like that again, but part of him is glad it happened and he was there to help.
“It’s a weird thing to say, but I guess you can almost say I am grateful for the opportunity to have had a second chance to save somebody else,” Maldonado said. “After essentially, with great heartache, being 0-for-1. Another part of me wishes I never had the chance, because that meant nobody was ever in that situation. But, in a strange sort of way, me with the faith that I have, I feel that God said, ‘I prepared you for this moment, to be able to do the best you could.’ There was less hesitations that I had, because I knew where this could have gone.”
Maldonado, 43, began working as a cutman with Resurrection Fighting Alliance in 2012 and started with Legacy Fighting Championships two years later. When the two MMA promotions merged, he came along. Maldonado is a major advocate for cutmen having further training. He is a traveling physical therapist living near Seattle, who is again trying to hook on with a college as he and his wife prepare to have a child.
Maldonado said he does hope to speak with Texas Combative Sports and Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) officials about what happened at LFA 26. He said there could have been more preparedness by medical personnel hired to work the event.
“There were numerous factors in the response to the situation in the cage that did not demonstrate great preparation and likely would warrant future discussions and modifications in a formal protocol,” Maldonado said.
In a statement sent to MMA Fighting, TDLR spokesperson Susan Stanford said the department is “vigilant” in its responsibility for safety and “maintains an on-going review of its safety procedures.”
“TDLR staff and attending ringside physicians followed all match up, pre-fight, in-fight and post-fight safety procedures during Mr. Hancock’s in-ring emergency,” Stanford said in the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with CJ and his family for his continued recovery.”
Maldonado said he has yet to speak with Hancock since the frightening moments in the cage. But he did make an admittance to Hancock’s significant other Christine Ross that night.
“I did warn him through his girlfriend,” Maldonado said. “I said, ‘The next time we do cross paths in person, you better expect to be hugged for a long amount of time by a stranger.’”
“That,” Maldonado added, “will definitely be a significant moment for me.”