An elite athlete trained to push his body clings to life after a routine workout sparked a cascade of life-threatening medical complications. Slater Springman’s body was in crisis battling a new challenge every day. The 22-year-old college baseball player spent 32 days in an out-of-state ICU before he could be stabilized and transferred for the specialty care and inspiring support network available in his hometown.
Quick Thinking Likely Saved His Life
Slater took the field at Freed-Hardeman University on August 27th for the baseball team’s first practice of the year with high hopes. The talented catcher had earned a baseball scholarship and was pursuing his Master’s in Accounting at the Tennessee school. As a highly disciplined athlete who trained year-round, the “start of the season” conditioning routine was initially comfortable for Slater. But shortly before he reached the end of the two-mile run, his legs gave out, he collapsed on the track, and lost consciousness.
His quick-thinking coaches and teammates rushed him to the locker room, packed ice around him, and called 911. By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Slater’s core temperature was 105 degrees, and he was experiencing seizures. He was placed in a medically induced coma to give his body time to recover while his medical team determined their next course of action.
One complication leads to another
Slater was diagnosed with a severe case of heat stroke. His mother, Rexann, and her sister headed to Tennessee as soon as she was alerted to her son’s critical condition, driving 490 miles through the night from Tulsa. His father, Bill, was out of town on business and joined them at Slater’s bedside in the intensive care unit (ICU) the following day.
For Slater, the heat stroke was just the start; the cascade of the ensuing complications proved even more life threatening. Slater was struggling to breathe and was placed on a ventilator. His creatine phosphokinase (CPK) level reached an alarming level. CPK is an enzyme that impacts the chemical changes in the body. The normal range for an adult male is around 200; Slater’s CPK level was 250,000 and climbing.
Then Rexann noticed that fluid in Slater’s urine collection bag was bright red. The severe heat stroke had triggered rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition associated with high-performing endurance athletes. Rhabdomyolysis is when muscle fibers break down and leak into the circulation system causing a wide range of symptoms including weakness, fatigue, inflammation, tea-colored urine, and ultimately kidney failure. Slater’s kidneys were failing, and he needed immediate dialysis.
Every day, Slater’s illness affected another part of his body. His internal chemistry was off, and his medical team had to address dangerous fluctuations in his lactic acid, calcium, and potassium levels. His disintegrating muscle cells released a protein called myoglobin into his blood in such large quantities that it clogged his kidneys, requiring daily dialysis treatments that would be necessary for months. His CPK levels climbed consistently for a week, eventually peaking at 1,000,000. Slater’s doctors could not find any documented evidence of another rhabdomyolysis patient with reported CPK levels that high. He was in uncharted territory.
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ELEVATING OUTCOMES CAMPAIGN
Three weeks after being hospitalized, Slater’s condition took a downward turn. His medical team had tried every appropriate treatment, but his condition continued to deteriorate. His family had to face the painful reality that they were close to losing him.
The Springmans are a close family united by love, respect, and commitment to each other and their faith. Slater’s younger sisters Sheridan and Sutton followed their brother’s critical condition through daily calls with their mother and Bill described his son as his best friend. None of them could imagine their family without Slater.
So, they reached out to their Christian community both in Tennessee and Oklahoma to ask for prayers for Slater. People from across the country and around the world responded in support of Slater. Rexann said that she was at peace knowing that her son was in God’s hands. Slater pulled through the crisis, and a physician advised the Springmans to transfer him back to Tulsa for the specialty care he would need to move forward.
400 Mile Flight for Life-Changing Specialty Care and Support
Slater needed a larger hospital better equipped with the specialty resources to handle his condition. Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa is rated as a High Performing Regional Hospital by U.S. News & World Reports for treatment of kidney failure. With a Pulmonary ICU, Saint Francis provides the expert respiratory care that Slater needed.
In addition, the Springman’s extensive network of friends and family in Oklahoma offered the long-term support that Slater would need to beat his illness and regain his mobility.
At first, Rexann was concerned that Slater’s medical needs might be too complicated to move him. Although out of the coma, Slater was still in fragile condition and was attached to several monitors to track his vital signs. He also had multiple IV medications and a trach tube with a ventilator to support his breathing.
Angel MedFlight’s Critical Care Flight Nurses and Critical Care Paramedics are experienced with high-acuity patient transfers and the aircraft are equipped with ICU technology to handle any situations that might arise in flight. Once the flight itinerary was set and the aircraft was dispatched to Tennessee, Rexann felt relieved… like she could finally take a deep breath.
When Medical Flight Team arrived at Slater’s bedside, Rexann noticed how the clinicians worked in synchronized movements to safely transition Slater’s connections to the portable equipment for flight.
Rexann accompanied Slater on the smooth 400-mile flight, and as the airplane touched down in Tulsa, she realized how happy she was to bring her son home.
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Saint Francis Hospital
Saint Francis is a Catholic, not-for-profit health system wholly governed and operated in Tulsa, Oklahoma whose mission is to extend the presence and healing ministry of Christ to all who seek its services.
The First Steps of Recovery
At Saint Francis Hospital, Slater remained critical. His care team continued to make treatment adjustments to reduce his CPK levels and correct other system imbalances. Day by day, he made small improvements. After 3 weeks, he was moved from the ICU to the Progressive Care Unit and started on his road to recovery. Slater had lost almost 50 pounds of muscle over the course of his illness. He was so weak that it was difficult for him to even hold his cell phone.
The St. Francis team used a special therapy bed to tilt Slater and acclimate his body to a vertical position again. The staff used an angled wheelchair to take him out to enjoy fresh air for the first time in more than two months. Friends and family were able to visit and encourage his recuperation. The University of Oklahoma Softball Team and coaches came to visit him in the hospital; many had followed his illness for months and had prayed for his recovery.
His stayed in the Progressive Care Unit for a total of four weeks before transitioning to St. Francis’ inpatient rehabilitation center. Slater’s years of disciplined athletic training kicked in and he improved quickly. Soon he was walking with adaptive equipment. After a total of three and a half months in hospitals, he was discharged on December 13th – just in time to spend Christmas at home with his family.
Happily Ever After
In the spring, Slater started online classes, and he returned to Freed-Hardeman University campus to continue his education the following August, exactly one year after his illness. Although he didn’t return to the baseball team as a player, he supported his teammates as a player coach over the next two years. He graduated with his Master’s in Accounting in 2021.
Slater is now preparing for the next chapter of his life. He is engaged to marry Reagan Qualls on May 21. Less than four years after his near-death illness and miraculous recovery, Slater is ready for his “happily ever after” and we couldn’t be happier for him.
The Angel MedFlight team is grateful for the chance to celebrate Slater’s Incredible Outcome.