Mom of Drive player files wrongful death lawsuit


WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — The mother of a Grand Rapids Drive player who died after collapsing during a game is suing the NBA, Detroit Pistons, the Drive’s owners, and the DeltaPlex Arena.

“I am here today to… raise awareness. Please don’t pity me or anything like that, just join me as I fight for my child. He deserves an immediate response,” Jewel Upshaw said during a Wednesday morning news conference announcing the lawsuit for the wrongful death of Zena “Zeke” Upshaw.

>>App users: Watch Zeke Upshaw’s mother discuss the lawsuit here.

The 20-page lawsuit says all four defendants were negligent and grossly negligent in the moments after Zeke Upshaw collapsed face-down on the floor during the final minute of the March 24 game.

The lawsuit states the 26-year-old athlete had no heartbeat and had suffered sudden cardiac death, making immediate life-saving measures necessary to bring him back to life. But Jewel Upshaw’s lawyers say those efforts never came.

>>PDF: Zeke Upshaw wrongful death lawsuit 

The lawsuit says the team’s medical staff and personnel moved around and near Zeke Upshaw’s body without any observable sense of urgency, and no one started CPR, chest compressions, or used an oxygen mask or defibrillator, which may have shocked his heart back into operation.

Jewel Upshaw’s lawyers say a four-minute video recording of the incident shows “not a single life-saving measure was administered.”

The lawsuit states the team’s doctor had already left the game and the medical staff and employees in the arena were not properly trained on how to respond to sudden cardiac events, which are “on top of the triage check list of properly trained emergency medical personnel when faced with an unconscious athlete who has not suffered any apparent blow or injury.”

The lawsuit says Zeke Upshaw went without oxygen for 45 minutes, and a Spectrum Health Butterworth doctor determined he had approximately 20 percent of his brain functionality left when he arrived at the hospital.

Doctors told Upshaw’s family they should make him comfortable, according to the court filing. The Chicago native died two days later.

The Kent County medical examiner determined that Zeke Upshaw’s death was the result of cardiac failure.

“I raised Zeke to be amazing. He was an amazing kid and young adult. And I also told Zeke to do his best at everything that he did. Unfortunately, the same wasn’t afforded to Zeke,” said Jewel Upshaw.

The lawsuit claims the NBA, Detroit Pistons, SSJ Group, LLC and the DeltaPlex Arena were negligent in hiring and training staff and employees and grossly negligent in delaying medical care for Zeke Upshaw.

It lists eight steps the groups failed to take, including taking a complete and thorough medical history, using a defibrillator and performing CPR.

The lawsuit claims the NBA knows the risk of sudden cardiac death is present at every level of its league and that quick and immediate response is needed, but “still fails to adequately prepare for and protect its league players from the situation.

Jewel Upshaw’s lawyers say the risk of sudden cardiac death is a “tragic secret inside the NBA” that is preventable and forseeable, citing past player deaths and a December 2017 study that found 81 of 519 NBA athletes analyzed had abnormal heart test results, despite healthy medical prognoses.

Jewel Upshaw is seeking damages of more than $75,000 and is demanding a jury trial in the case.

“Upshaw’s hope that through her lawsuit, change will come to the NBA—that going forward, not one NBA son of a proud mother, will ever again suffer sudden cardiac death during a game,” the lawsuit states.

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