What would you do if you found yourself with your father’s life in your hands?
That was the situation 14-year-old Tex “T” Mitchell IV faced one afternoon while sailing on Lake Belton, west of Temple, Texas, with three of his friends under the guidance of his dad.
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“My dad started laying down and said he couldn’t really breathe,” T said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
His dad, Tex Mitchell, leader of Boy Scout Troop 410, had invited some boys in the troop, most of whom had little prior sailing experience, out on the lake that day last summer.
“I had forgotten my hat and I didn’t think it affected me that much, but I didn’t know what else to blame it on,” said Mitchell, who initially thought he was experiencing an asthma attack or heat exhaustion. In reality, he was having a heart attack.
“As I became more and more incapacitated,” he said, “the boys really had to take command of the vessel and get us back.”
Time was ticking, and every second counted. What should they do?
T, who had started taking sailing classes with his dad two years before, was the only one with enough experience to take the boat back to the marina. But he had never done it on his own before. While he navigated the boat, friends Jake Yepez and Aaron Walls performed first aid on Mitchell, using ice and water bottles from the cooler in hopes of lowering his temperature. They also asked him questions to keep him engaged.
“For the questions, it was mostly where were you born, what’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you as a child. … I was trying to make sure that he didn’t go unconscious,” Yepez said. “When we were about to get into the marina he seemed to be talking much less.”
T got the boat into the marina at the Lake Belton Yacht Club on his first try and called 911. Yepez and Walls continued first aid, while friend Alex Graves ran inside to tell the employees what was happening. Within minutes, the whole group was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Mitchell ended up having two stents implanted in his cardiac arteries.
“I am super proud of them and super thankful, too,” Mitchell said. “They did a fantastic job. The doctors were very clear that the speed with which I arrived at the hospital was critical to my really fantastical, remarkable recovery.”
He also believes Scouting played a large role in the boys’ ability to react quickly in a stressful situation.
“I credit the scouting program for really teaching them the leadership qualities and bravery to step up when a situation arises that requires them to act with authority,” he said. “I really credit the Scouting program for myself being alive today.”
But even though in recent months the boys have received statewide attention and multiple honors for their heroism, they remain modest.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” Graves said. “I just am fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to go sailing. I just felt really good about him getting a full recovery, because I know how much it would have hurt T if he hadn’t had a full recovery, that being his dad.”
T, who described the experience of saving his dad’s life as “pretty scary,” said he’s glad that he and his dad learned to sail together — and will continue to sail together.
“You have really good opportunities if you know how to sail,” T said. “If your friend ever takes you sailing and something bad happens, you know how to take control.”
Now that he’s had some time to reflect on all that’s happened, his dad, too, is grateful for his son’s ability to take control.
“I always knew my son was a hero,” Mitchell said. “I just didn’t know he was going to be my hero.”