Above: Arcadia High’s Philip He, 17, is back playing after a serious bout of pneumonia kept him from two months of practice. (Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
It was supposed be a relaxing weekend in northern California filled with outdoor camping, boat rides and fishing.
The hilly mountains, sparkling lakes and clear blue skies were picturesque on this Fourth of July weekend trip to Bishop.
All was going as planned for Arcadia High School senior Phillip He.
Then came Sunday’s frantic afternoon.
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Already batting flu-like symptoms, He decided to stay in while his best friend, Kristian Salazar, and his family headed out for a boat ride.
“He’s the type of person who is up for anything, even when he didn’t feel well,” Salazar said. “But this time you could tell something was wrong.”
The boat trip started at noon and lasted three hours before a gas leak stranded them. The boat was pulled back for a fill-up, but the family decided to cancel the remaining three hours after Salazar’s uncle, Eric Noguchi, thought the delay would serve as a good time to check on He, who earlier in the day coughed up blood.
“When we got there we knocked on the door and he wouldn’t respond,” Salazar recalled. “The cabin is situated where we could look in the window and into the room where He was, and he wasn’t moving.
“When we walked in my mom yelled. She said to call 911.”
He was unconscious, clinging to what little oxygen his body could take in, and his mouth was spewing white foam.
Salazar’s father, Sam, is a police officer with the LAPD. He knew exactly what to do.
“My dad told me it’s always best to lay on his side, because if he lays on his back he could choke on his own spit,” Salazar said. “Luckily there was a doctor nearby and a respirator to help him breath.”
He had acute mountain sickness, an illness that affects travelers not used to elevations above 8,000 feet.
“The doctor said if it was a couple hours later I would have gone to cardiac arrest,” He said.
“I had low oxygen and my lungs were clogged. I remember waking up in the ambulance heading down the mountain.”
He’s parents, Elaine and Jim, made the drive up the next day, finding their son attached to an oxygen mask during his three-day stay in the hospital. He’s oxygen saturation – a measure of how much oxygen the blood is carrying – was at 60 percent; normalcy is 90 percent.
“It was pretty bad,” He recalled. “They (Salazar’s parents) were pretty shocked. (Kristian’s) mom (Lisa Salazar) was the first one to check on me. The dad and grandpa quickly rushed to call the ambulance.”
Reluctantly, doctors released He from the hospital provided the parents rented an oxygen tank for the trip back to Arcadia.
Upon arrival, He checked into Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, where he spent three more days.
“I lost 10 pounds,” He said.
He was told to stay out of the sunlight, but he couldn’t bear not watching his teammates get ready for the football season.
“But I came and watched anyway,” He said.
Because his heart was strained from the effects of a near cardiac arrest, He couldn’t even do light workouts.
“If I did, it could permanently damage the heart,” He said.
It wasn’t until the final week of fall camp when He was cleared – by three doctors, no less – to play football.
Arcadia couldn’t afford losing the 6-foot-1, 215-pound He. The two-year letterman started at tackle and defensive end last year.
But that he’s alive at all is what’s most important.
“I was frantic because I didn’t know where I was when I woke up,” He said. “I remember the second day I wanted to leave because I already felt like I could get up.
“I didn’t realize the severity until the doctor said how bad it was.”
He’s glad to be back on the field. That he’s there is a great accomplishment in itself.
“My parents didn’t even want me playing football,” said He, who’s played football at Arcadia since his freshman year. “I kind of forced them.”
It was only a matter of time until He, an only child, threw on an Arcadia uniform.
For seven years, He was the next door neighbor of Apaches coach Jon Dimalante. Soon he was one of Arcadia’s ball boys.
Dimalante said: “It was always my opinion that He had Apache blood in him.”