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Minium: For a While, ODU's Women's Tennis Players Didn't Know Whether Teammate Mya Byrd Would Live

Ron Chen

NORFOLK – Mya Byrd bounded out of the stands at Chartway Arena, and even in formal shoes, ran to hug Tatsiana Sasnouskaya.

Sasnouskaya, who is known as Tanya by her Old Dominion women's tennis teammates, had just been named ODU's Female Athlete of the Year at the Golden Monarch Awards, a yearly gathering in which the University's more than 450 student-athletes dress up in their black tie finest to receive awards and trophies.
When she walked off the stage, Tanya was nearly bowled over by Mya. She quickly recovered and hugged Mya back, and then they shared a smile that communicated so much without saying a word.
A very different scene played out a few weeks earlier at ODU's Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center. It was Friday, April 6, a day before the Monarchs were to host James Madison, and they were going through a light practice, the kind of laid-back workout you have the day before what was expected to be a challenging match.
Without warning, Byrd collapsed on the court. No one yet knows why. Her breathing slowed almost to a halt. Her heartbeat was shallow. Her teammates understandably were distraught.
For about 30 seconds, assistant athletic trainer Bobby Broddus performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation chest compressions on Byrd to force oxygen to her brain and other vital organs.
"We didn't know whether she would live," Tanya said.
Byrd lived, of course, and appears healthier than ever. After four days of tests at Norfolk's Sentara Heart Hospital, she was released. Doctors were unable to pinpoint why she passed out, but noted, that a battery of tests could find no issues with her health.
She returned to practice a few weeks later.

Bobby Broddus performed CPR on Mya Byrd.

But the day she collapsed had a lasting impact on the ODU women's tennis team. A very close team became even closer. A team accustomed to succeeding, on the court and in the classroom, suddenly had a greater appreciation for the gift of life and for each other.
That team has arguably been ODU's most successful of 2022-23 and isn't finished.
ODU won the Sun Belt title, its third conference title in a row, trouncing JMU, 4-0, in the final. The Monarchs then defeated South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Tanya opened with a win in the NCAA Tournament in singles play on Monday and plays again Tuesday, including a doubles match with teammate Sofia Johnson.
"What happened with Mya," head coach Dom Manilla said, "it's something that anyone who was there that day will never forget."
Tanya said the moment she met Byrd, "I knew I had a friend." There was something about the young freshman from Maury High School that she found endearing.
Other than tennis, they had little in common. Tanya grew up in Minsk, Belarus, the daughter of middle-class parents. She learned to play tennis on an outdoor court in her neighborhood. She was a tough, blue-collar kid who outworked others from more affluent backgrounds.
Byrd, a freshman and an African-American, is diminutive and is rarely seen without a smile on her face. She's a Christian who proudly wears a silver cross and seems to have a kind word for everyone.

Mya Byrd and her mother, Dr. Lynelle Slade-Byrd.
And she comes from a family of athletes. Her parents met at Virginia Tech, where her dad led the football team in tackling as a senior and her mom was a standout volleyball player. She has had the best coaching her parents could provide her.
Dr. Melendez Byrd, her father, is a professor and program coordinator for Norfolk State's professional school of counseling. Dr. Lynelle Slade-Byrd, her mother, is a pediatrician.
Yet the first time Tanya and Mya met, this odd couple hit it off.
"I just really liked her. We just connected," Tanya said.
That made the events of April 6 all that much more difficult. When she saw Mya hit the floor, Tanya didn't panic.
"I tried to keep my head," she said. "I saw Bobby working on her and everyone running around panicking, so I called 911."
When she hung up, then she allowed her emotions to boil over.
"Mya was unconscious," she said. "And I was looking at her and I was like this is my friend and I'm very scared for her right now."
Slade-Byrd was at work caring for other peoples' children in Portsmouth when she got a call from her husband. He had been called by ODU's assistant coach, Yana Sokolenko.
"He told me Mya had collapsed and they may be doing chest compressions, so I dropped everything and I drove probably about 80 miles an hour through the Midtown Tunnel to get to Norfolk General Hospital," she said.
As she got into her car, her thoughts immediately went to Damar Hamlin, the NFL player who collapsed during a game with cardiac arrest. Paramedics were able to revive him. Slade-Byrd didn't know whether her daughter's heart had stopped.

Mya Byrd when she signed with ODU at Maury with sister Bria, Mom Lynelle, father Melendez and brother Blake. 

"As a pediatrician, you know that's the one thing you don't want to hear, that your child has collapsed in the middle of a sport," she said. "So, I'm running through a whole lot more in my head than probably everybody else is thinking."
She arrived at the hospital about the same time as Manilla and other ODU officials and her daughter was sitting in a wheel chair. She was weak but OK.
"I was so relieved," Slade-Byrd said.
Mya then underwent a battery of tests. And after several days, Dr. Saumil Patel, a cardiologist, gave them mostly good news, but no clear answer as to what happened the day she collapsed.
"He told us, 'I'll be honest with you. She had a syncopal (fainting) episode and that's all we know.'
"He said, 'Look, my job is to find the things that are gonna kill you and we didn't find anything. The rest we live with.' "
Because Mya's sister, Bria, had a stroke a year ago (from which she has recovered), they did a battery of tests on the brain as well.
"They said it's all good, that everything is OK," Slade-Byrd said.
"There's been a lot of a player. I mean a lot of prayer."
Mya remembers waking up just as an ambulance arrived.
"I remember I was crying because I was in pain," she said. But asked if she was scared, she said she didn't think so.
"I don't remember feeling any emotion," she said. "I was glad I was there. There were people there to help me right away. Bobby was there to take care of me.
"If I had been anywhere else, I don't know if I would have gotten the same kind of treatment."

ODU athletic trainers Rachelle Bowman and Bobby Broddus with Mya Byrd.  

All of ODU's athletic trainers are thoroughly schooled in first aid. That was apparent last basketball season when Monarch point guard Imo Essien collapsed during a game at Georgia Southern.
Jason Mitchell, ODU's associate head athletic trainer, was on the court seconds after he collapsed and quickly helped him recover.
Broddus had been through many hours of training on what to do with someone who suffered a cardiac arrest. He'd gone through the scenarios, over and over again, in his head of what to do if a player collapsed.

So when it happened, his training just kicked in.
"If there is a hero in what happened here, it is Bobby Broddus," said Bruce Stewart, ODU's deputy athletic director and chief operating officer, who administers both Monarch tennis teams.
"As an athletic trainer, you never know when you're going to face something like this. And he did everything right."
He did not see Mya collapse, but heard a commotion and saw Manilla roll her onto her side.
"That was the right thing to do," Broddus said. 
Broddus hooked her up to an automated external defibrillator (AED), which told him that her heart was beating and that her heart did not need to be restarted with an electric shock. But then he had a decision to make. Should he start chest compressions?
"I couldn't sit there because the AED said her heart rhythm was okay and just wait and hope. She was unresponsive, completely unresponsive," he said.
"It wasn't that her heart was not beating. But I could feel it was weak, weaker than it should be. And as I sat there with her and waited, it was getting slightly weaker."
So, he began chest compressions.
"Once I started chest compressions, she became responsive, and then she became conscious. So that's when I stopped and kept feeling for her pulse, and it was a bit stronger. And the AED analyzed her again, and again said no shock was needed.
"And then I just kind of kept talking with her and making sure that she was conscious and responsive."
And then the ambulance showed up.
Broddus said her teammates then stepped up. Several opened the front doors so and directed the rescue squad to Mya. They gathered her things to take them to the hospital.
The match with JMU set for the next day was canceled.
Broddus said it didn't really hit him what had happened until sometime over the weekend, when the enormity of it all landed on him like a ton of bricks. He was worried for Mya. "She's an athlete, and she's in such great shape, that I kept thinking and worrying that this can't be good, that something is terribly wrong.
"I worried about her future. Would she be able to play tennis again? It was a very difficult weekend."

ODU senior Tatsiana Sasnouskaya has developed a close friendship with Mya Byrd.
Mya was allowed visitors on Saturday and was inundated with guests.
"I went to see her with my teammates," Tanya said. 
Mya's biggest complaint was being bored.
"You don't appreciate how much you like being outdoors until you're in a hospital for several days," Mya said. "My teammates were awesome. There was always someone there."
Tanya said she appreciates life, and the chance to compete, more than she did before the incident.
"You never know what's going to happen to you," she said. "It was great to know that everyone on our team, everyone at ODU, they had Mya's back. I'm so grateful that we all have each other."
Slade-Byrd said it wasn't just Mya's teammates who had her back. As she was driving to Norfolk, unsure of whether her daughter would live or die, she prayed.
"Of course, there's always fear in that kind of a situation, but I'm a person of faith, a strong person of faith," she said.
"And so, I just prayed. And I just asked God to protect her. So of course, I'm anxious and fearful, but I'm also just hopeful. Our oldest middle daughter had a stroke. And I always asked when she was going through her evaluations, I said, 'Lord, if there's anything wrong, please reveal it.'
"And so through those tests, whatever the answer was going to be, good or bad, things were going to be okay. I knew things would be okay with Mya."
Mya credits the power of prayer. But she is also very grateful to Broddus.
"He may have saved my life," she said.
"I can't thank him enough, or my teammates or coaches enough, for being there for me, for caring about me."
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