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For Grohs, a touchdown pass to remember

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 09:47 AM

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TAMPA -

It took seven plays and 62 yards last Friday night for Plant High third-string quarterback Kyle Groh to throw his first touchdown pass of the season.

The 15-yard pass to receiver Walker Barnes was arguably the most meaningful of Plant's countless touchdowns this season.

The junior quarterback sprinted to the sideline and pointed up in the stands to his family.

Tears flowed from Catherine and Conrad Groh's eyes. His sister, Lauren, a Michigan State student home for Thanksgiving, even got misty eyed.

So were a lot of other eyes in the Dad's Stadium crowd.

It was a moment that almost wasn't.

Conrad nearly missed the moment. He nearly missed a lot of moments.

"He should be gone," Catherine said.

Conrad's journey back from near death has been about perseverance, resiliency, not giving up, but mostly about love.

For as long as Kyle can remember, his dad, Conrad, has thrown the football with him. On July 31, that father-son bonding nearly ended.

As she had done so many times before, Catherine drove to Tampa International Airport to pick up her husband, a US Airways pilot. While she waited in the car, Conrad texted his wife that he didn't feel well.

When he arrived at curbside, he was pale and sweaty. Catherine rushed to his side. She grabbed his bag to put in the car when suddenly Conrad fell to the ground, his head striking the asphalt with a sickening thud.

"It's a sound I will never forget," Catherine said.

Catherine, a nurse who has tended to babies since 1979, sprang into action and immediately began CPR. There was no pulse. Conrad was not breathing.

As she began compressions, Catherine heard a crack — yet another sound she won't be able to forget. She broke three of Conrad's ribs while trying to jump-start his heart, but it worked.

Just before paramedics arrived, Conrad began breathing again and was actually sitting up before he was loaded into an ambulance.

At St. Joseph's Hospital, doctors assessed him and the news wasn't good. Conrad had a pulmonary embolism and a heart attack; which came first is uncertain. And for added measure, he had bleeding on the brain from the fall, which would prevent doctors from treating the heart attack.

Nearly 300 miles away, Kyle couldn't sleep. He stirred in his bunk at Muscular Dystrophy Camp in Tallahassee, a Plant summer tradition where players serve as counselors. He had an overwhelming feeling something was wrong.

When coach Robert Weiner walked into the cabin and asked him to step outside, his fears were confirmed.

"It was hard," Weiner said. "I was very direct with him. I told him his father had taken a fall and there was potentially a heart attack and it didn't look good."

The two began the five-hour drive back to Tampa. They talked about football and music. The last two songs Kyle heard as they approached St. Joseph's Hospital were "Lady" by Styx, his mom and dad's song, and Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart," Kyle and his mom's song.

Doctors told Catherine to gather the family, and Kyle knew what that meant.

"The first thing that went through my mind was who is going to throw the ball with me," he said. "What was going to happen the first time I throw the ball and he's not there. And that's when I finally started crying."

Catherine has delivered similar news to many parents throughout her 32-year career as nurse, but she wasn't ready to accept it when it came to her own husband.

Conrad and Catherine met at a South Tampa McDonald's on Dale Mabry Highway. Conrad was 19 and stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Catherine was 15 and worked the counter.

Conrad, in his red and white car that earned him the nickname "Captain America," just meshed with Catherine, a feisty Italian.

They've been married 30 years.

"The biggest hero in all of this is my wife," Conrad said. "She saved my life."

The Grohs believe things happen for a reason. There's a reason Catherine — and not a friend —  picked up Conrad from the airport that day. There's a reason Conrad didn't have a layover in Charlotte, N.C., which would have left him alone in a hotel room.

And there was a reason Conrad survived. He became "that guy" at St. Joseph's, the medical miracle doctors stopped by to marvel at during his 10-day day.

The family believes prayers and love brought Conrad back

The ultimate show of support is evident on the Plant players' helmets in the form of a Captain America-inspired red and blue sticker with the initials "CG" in the middle.

"There's a lot of power in that sticker," Conrad said. "If those guys are going to go out there and get pounded, then I'm going to do what I need to do to get better."

The long road to recovery has hit some bumps. There was a minor setback when Conrad had to get a pacemaker, something he's still adjusting to, as well as his new unemployed life.

After 23,000 hours in the sky, Conrad's days as a pilot are over. His next venture has "yet to be determined," he said. What he does know is where he'll be tonight — sitting in the stands to cheer for Plant in the Class 8A-Region 2 final at East Lake, with the hopes of seeing his son provide another magical moment.

"That touchdown was Thanksgiving, it was Christmas, it was the best birthday ever," Conrad said. "I will always remember that feeling and I'm so grateful I was able to see it."

 

PLANT AT EAST LAKE

 

WHAT: 8A-Region 2 final

WHEN: 7:30 tonight


ksmith@tampatrib.com


 (813) 259-7860

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