By MARK MOSCHETTI
SEATTLE – This wasn’t a come-from-behind victory – she has been involved in lots of those.
It wasn’t a record-setting performance – she certainly has delivered plenty of those.
It wasn’t even a buzzer-beater – and she has seen a few of those.
That’s just basketball. For Tina Charles, this was better than all of that. Better than basketball. Life-changing better.
Or, more to the point …
… life-saving better.
Five years ago, in July 2017, a landscaper in Texas was taking a breather on a bench outside his place of employment when he went into sudden cardiac arrest. He fell off the bench. A fellow employee saw what happened and got on the phone. Soon, other employees were on the scene, bringing with them an automated external defibrillator – or, as it is more commonly known, an AED.
Through the use of that device, the man was revived and ultimately saved.
And the AED device that helped save him?
That came from Hopey’s Heart Foundation, which Charles started in April 2013 and behind which she is still a driving force.
“The way you should see AEDs is the way you see fire extinguishers,” Charles said in talking about her foundation during an introductory press conference with Seattle-area media on June 28 after signing with the Storm. “When you go to a school, you know what the routine and protocol is for a fire. It’s the way you should have for an AED.”
Toward that end, Charles donates her entire WNBA salary to the foundation. That money goes in part to awarding grants for AEDs (she said the cost of one is between $1,200 and $1,600) to schools and non-profit organizations who go through the application process and ultimately are selected to receive one of those grants.
“We’ve been able to place over 430 since we started,” she said. “It’s very vital to save a life. When your heart suddenly stops, it’s a 10 percent survival rate for every minute. Every minute that goes by, your survival rate goes down.”
OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT
Most WNBA players are involved in some kind of charitable work or community outreach – and most of them, including Charles, typically do it way under the radar. Not only are there no television cameras around, the majority of the fans, even the most passionate ones, often aren’t aware of what any particular player might be doing with some of her off-the-court time.
In fact, while Charles’ efforts are directed primarily at Hopey’s Heart, she also has been involved with building a school in Mali, in northwestern Africa. That was in 2011.
“It was really neat to build a school and extend literacy – that’s important to me, as well,” said Charles, who worked in conjunction with buildOn, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut, and OmniPeace of Los Angeles.
As to how she chose Mali for that brand-new school?
“I literally closed my eyes, put my finger on a map, and it landed on Mali,” she said with a smile.
The Hopey’s Heart Foundation is named in honor of Charles’ aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz, who died of multiple organ failure in March 2013.
That was part of Charles’ inspiration. The other part is the Wes Leonard Heart Team in Michigan, named for a high school basketball player from that state who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the end of his game in March 2011.
“I read an article about him. His heart just suddenly stopped, and his high school didn’t have an AED, and I was very intrigued by it,” Charles said. “Then I looked up what an AED was and the importance of it.
“I was very active in the community, so I wanted to put my efforts into raising awareness of sudden cardiac arrest.”
Along with donating her WNBA salary to the foundation, Charles has come up with a challenge program, tied to one particular aspect of her on-court performance this season.
Along with being a big scorer (she led the WNBA last season at 23.4 points per game), Charles is a dominant rebounder. Last season, she grabbed 258, an average of 9.6 per game that ranked No. 4 in the league. This year, through last weekend’s All-Star break, she has 141, an average of 6.7 per game with 13 regular-season games remaining.
“Anyone can pledge any dollar amount for every rebound I get – and I plan on matching it just to place these AEDs,” she said. “We all have a platform, and for me, it’s AED placement and raising awareness for sudden cardiac arrest.”
“IT’S ALL BECAUSE OF YOU AND YOUR MOM”
While with the New York Liberty in 2017, Charles was finishing up a practice with the team just before the start of the playoffs. Her mother quietly came into the gym, and with her was the man from Texas – Dan Carlson – whose life had been saved by the AED his employer had obtained with the help of a Hopey’s Heart grant.
As detailed by then-NBC News reporter Chelsea Bailey on the NBC Website, Charles and Carlson shared a brief emotional meeting – lots of hugs, lots of tears.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m so happy you’re still here with us,” Charles said to Carlson.
“It’s all because of you,” he replied. “It’s all because of you and your mom.”
Long after memories of come-from-behind victories, record-setting performances – and even buzzer-beaters – have faded, that particular memorable moment is likely to remain with Charles forever.
“The Liberty knew how dear that foundation is to my heart. So they surprised me and flew him up and allowed me to meet him,” she said.
“It was great to meet him and see how the fruits of our labor really worked out.”