CLEVELAND — In a mission to save lives and spread awareness for heart health, Browns cornerback Denzel Ward and his mother Nicole have gone all in—doing what they can to prevent others from suffering the same kind of loss they did almost five years ago.
On May 2, 2016, Paul Ward Jr. was at a spin class. Paul was active and appeared to have a clean bill of health—until that day when Nicole got a phone call while cooking dinner.
"It was the trainer, if I remember correctly, who was just hysterical. 'Your husband has fallen off the bike, your husband's fallen off the bike,'" Nicole remembered being told.
Nicole rushed to the gym, with Denzel by her side, and discovered her husband had passed out and stopped breathing at the gym.
"No one at the time had tried to administer CPR. There was also an AED (automated external defibrillator) that was located in the gym," Nicole said. "But no one used the defibrillator either to help save him."
Around seven or eight minutes after Paul collapsed, EMS arrived. He was rushed to an emergency room and life-saving efforts were attempted. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.
"I go back into the emergency room, and they are trying to save his life," Nicole said. "They weren't able to do that."
Paul suffered from cardiac arrest and died that day.
Nicole said that she often wishes she would have been there with Paul at the spin class that day.
"One of the things I repeat in my mind quite often, is that one I wish I would have gone," Nicole said. "And then I always come back with the thought of, but there was a reason why I didn't go."
From this family tragedy came the Make Them Say Your Name Foundation—created by Nicole and her sons Denzel and Paul Ward III—dedicated to helping prevent heart-related fatalities.
The name of the organization is an ode to Paul—a message he always gave to his sons.
"He always said to the boys since they were growing up, 'Just continue to make them know your name,'" Nicole said.
Make Them Know Your Name provides training, education and resources to teach people how to respond when faced with a cardiac episode, while also providing AED and CPR kits to local schools and gyms.
Giving back to the community and working to ensure no other families lose a loved one the way they did is something that has provided Nicole and her sons comfort after losing a loving father and husband.
"It has definitely helped me in my healing process. I think it has also helped my sons in their healing process as well, because it's given us the opportunity to just realize that we're not alone in this," Nicole said.
The Make Them Know Your Name Foundation recently partnered up with Saucy Brew Works for a charity event during the NFL Draft in Cleveland Thursday, raising funds and also giving fans the chance to watch the Draft with Denzel. Tickets sold out within the hour, as fans were both excited for a moment with Denzel and the chance to help save lives.