Patient Stories

Ebonie's Story: Surviving Sudden Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Transplant

Nov. 16, 2023

One eighteen-year-old athlete’s journey of resilience from cardiac arrest, massive blood clots and multiple heart attacks through receiving a lifesaving heart transplant.

“Eighteen-year-old elite athletes don’t just drop dead,” said Dr. Louis, “but Ebonie did.”

Ebonie Sherwood, a three-sport high school senior, headed to college on a track scholarship, fell dead in her athletic trainers’ office during an otherwise normal after school practice.

“If the trainers didn’t have the AED, she wouldn’t have survived long enough to even make it to the hospital,” said Ebonie’s mom, Beverly Sherwood.

Ebonie was seen as a leader amongst her peers at her small, Dayton, Ohio high school— she played as a defensive end on the football team and was making plans for her senior prom.

Sudden Cardiac Death at High School

Without warning, Ebonie went into cardiac arrest at her track practice, and was taken to her local hospital, where they found clots in her lungs and made the decision to have her flown to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. When she arrived there, Ebonie was having a massive heart attack—and was transferred to UC Medical Center, home to the region’s most established heart care program.

“She had a second heart attack and had to be put on life support when she got here,” Louis B. Louis IV, MD, chief of cardiac surgery at UC Health and the Louis Buckberg endowed chair of cardiac surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine said.

Ebonie didn’t just have clots in her lungs—she had clots everywhere—clots that were killing her.

Three times Ebonie died—or tried to.

Her cardiovascular intensive care unit team of physicians, nurses, anesthetists, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, surgeons— were dedicated to saving Ebonie’s life and with her every step of the way.

Life-Saving Measures and the Decision for a Heart Transplant

“We used life support, and then ECMO to buy us some time, to keep her organs alive while we figured out what to do. I was calling on everyone,” Dr. Louis said. “It was all hands on deck.”

For her best chance of survival, Ebonie needed a new heart, and she needed it as fast as possible.

“We decided that for her best chance at survival, we needed to give up on her current heart and find her a new one. Emergent heart transplants don’t happen often,” Dr. Louis explained, “but we did it.” 

Celebrating Resilience: Ebonie's ICU Prom Experience

After a touch-and-go recovery following her transplant, Ebonie pulled through—doing so well, that her nurses decided to throw Ebonie a prom in the ICU since she missed out on her own.

“My god, what these nurses did,” Dr. Louis praised.

Within a week, Alleah Sturgill, the healthcare unit coordinator, and Alex Powell, RN, rallied their team in the CVICU, played music, ordered pizza and took the party through the hall of UC Medical Center.

Her care teams helped her get in her dress, did her hair and wore dresses of their own to help celebrate.

“Even though she still had her PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in and stickers all over her, she was beautiful,” Alex said. “It was so special to be part of. We sat and just hung out like we were friends; not like we were her care team.”

Ebonie's Stroke: Another Fight for Survival

After a successful prom, and an even more successful heart transplant, Ebonie was ready to head home, but three days before her planned discharge, Ebonie suffered a stroke—a stroke that her care teams called a lightning bolt, truly happening at random.

Thanks to quick action from her nurse, Alex, the stroke team was called in and the issue was identified within 30 minutes of it starting—something that saved Ebonie yet again.

“That’s the power of academic medicine,” Dr. Louis said. “The fact that we had all of the teams at the ready to support Ebonie no matter what happened—that’s something only we can do at UC Health.”

A Remarkable Recovery and Discharge from UC Medical Center

Less than 2 weeks after her stroke, Ebonie was ready to make her way out the front doors of UC Medical Center. She did so through a hallway lined with cheering care team members – those who had met her personally and some who had just heard her triumphant story – as well as some of her family and friends from school, wearing ‘Ebonie is a Warrior’ shirts.

Ebonie earned another rouse of cheers and applause when, for the first time in weeks, she stood up out of her wheelchair, and walked to the car.

“It’s amazing to see her progress,” Alex said emotionally. “It’s just incredible, and I’m so proud of her.”

Ebonie didn’t stop there—she also crossed the stage, on foot, at her high school graduation the day after she was discharged from UC Medical Center.

Learning CPR with Damar Hamlin

Four months later, Ebonie came back to Cincinnati to learn CPR with Damar Hamlin, the very thing that saved her life.  

As part of Damar’s Chasing M’s CPR Tour, the stop in Cincinnati finally brought Ebonie and her mom together with Damar and his family, who connected through their shared experience. Damar and his family reached out when they heard of Ebonie’s sudden cardiac arrest, just months after Damar’s, reassuring Beverly that Ebonie was receiving the best care possible at UC Medical Center.

“She’s making leaps and bounds in her progress,” Beverly said of Ebonie in July, “we don’t even take her wheelchair because she’s walking everywhere.”

This fall, Ebonie started college—walking onto campus as a first-year student studying exercise science.

“One of my classes is medical terminology, and I think it’ll be an easy one because I already have the experience,” Ebonie said with a grin.

Less than a year after experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest, spending 10 weeks in the cardiovascular ICU, suffering a stroke and having a heart transplant, Ebonie Sherwood is nearly back to normal, getting ready to launch out of the blocks on her life’s track.