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Heart & Soul: How an AED saved Murphy Jensen's life, and gave him new direction
In 2012, the American was first exposed to the power of automated external defibrillators. A decade later, they are the reason he can share his survival story.
Published Oct 28, 2022
⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️ WATCH: Our special feature on Murphy Jensen's remarkable revival ⬆️ ⬆️ ⬆️
Editor's Note: The power of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, was again on display this week, and perhaps never more visible. Damar Hamlin, a football player for the NFL's Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest during a game Monday night in Cincinnati, and collapsed on the field. If not for the quick response and actions of medical professionals—along with an AED that was accessible almost immediately after the incident—Hamlin's life may have ended right then and there. Instead, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center was able to update the world on Thursday that Hamlin's condition, while still critical, is improving and encouraging.
Last October, we published a feature on AEDs because of another life one helped save, Murphy Jensen—a former French Open doubles champion. Whether you're reading this for the first time, or reading it again, we encourage you to learn more about AEDs, and a person they've helped transform.
When Murphy Jensen, wife Kate and son Duke arrived at their hotel in Tucson, Ariz. this past spring, new surroundings caught the eye of the youngest family member. The curious four-year-old was first intrigued by several cacti, before a wandering attention span quickly—and thankfully—diverted him away from the prickly invitation and toward a giant water slide.
After reaching the top of the Slide-Winder, which takes riders on a cool 177-foot journey, Duke encouraged Murphy. “Daddy, you go first.”
Who’s a father to say no? As he obliged, the exuberant Jensen turned back with a parade wave. Not long after launching into the unknown, he lost sight of them, plunged, and his world turned upside down—temporarily.
“I go flying sideways. And I’m having a moment. The last time I’d been on a trip like this in the pool of a hotel was at the Garden of the Gods Resort,” Jensen reflects. “And I get shot out of this slide into like 15 feet [of water].
“Am I alive?”
If asked to paint Jensen’s soul, alive would be the emotion evoked on the canvas. The 53-year-old born on Michigan’s west shore naturally raises energy levels with his animated nature and facial expressions. He’s always moving—whether it’s staying active in the gym and on the court—or keeping busy with the projects that drive his passion forward.
He breathes with authentic appreciation and purpose. After struggling with substance misuse following his 1993 Roland Garros doubles triumph with older brother Luke, Murphy achieved full sobriety in 2006 once realizing he had more to offer in life.
As Luke proudly asserts, “Jensens never quit.”
Ten years later, Murphy co-founded WEConnect to help those with mental health and addiction challenges. The app empowers members to find their way back to healthy living by offering online resources, and developing routines to build positive habits. Behind all of this is a man with a huge heart and a welcoming compassion that opens the door to connect with people from all walks of life.
“I think that’s Murphy’s gift, to disarm people and allow men especially to be vulnerable. He allows people’s flaws to be okay,” says Kate. “That’s the thing that I respect about him the most. He really lets people be themselves and get real about what’s going on in their life.
“He has one of the purest hearts of anybody that I know.”
One example of that sincerity arrived on short notice in 2012. When Mats Wilander endured a lacerated kidney in a freak accident, Jensen stepped up to fill the Hall of Famer’s place in an exhibition benefiting the Steven M. Gootter Foundation. It was here where Jensen learned that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of natural deaths in the U.S., claiming an unsuspecting victim every 90 seconds—including the namesake of the charitable cause. Jensen was moved by the event’s mission, staying involved each year.
“Murphy is this incredible guy with a huge heart, both literally and figuratively, as it turns out,” says Andrew Messing, president of the foundation and Gootter’s brother-in-law. “Murphy learned about sudden cardiac arrest through us. It’s been at our events where he’s given demonstrations on how to do proper chest compressions, CPR, and using an AED.”
I think that’s Murphy’s gift, to disarm people and allow men especially to be vulnerable. He allows people’s flaws to be okay. Wife Kate Jensen on Murphy Jensen
Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are remarkable medical devices that provide step-by-step voice prompts to deliver care to an individual in sudden cardiac arrest. They analyze a heart’s rhythm and instruct a person when to administer an electric shock. Understanding how to operate these safely requires just a few minutes of training.
When Luke accepted a new job last year as Director of Racquet Sports at the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club in Colorado Springs, Colo., one of his first onboarding priorities was locating the AED at the facility. Not long after, he assisted in organizing a fundraiser by calling up Murphy to come join for the weekend.
With a trip to the zoo and a dip in the pool, Murphy soaked up family-friendly activities with Kate and Duke prior to focusing on defeating his big brother on the court. The setting was familiar: two siblings trading trash talk and chuckles from opposite sides of the net. But on this day, October 29, 2021, life came crashing down on the younger Jensen.
“He’s eyeballing me, looking at me like we normally would. He’s saying something, I’m saying something back and he had this beautiful smile on his face. He’s just kind of giggling and laughing,” recalls Luke. “All of a sudden his eyes close and he freezes. Then he slowly falls back and smacks his head.”
Murphy, whose internal power grid could have lit up the arena on its own, instantly shut off. Medical professionals in the stands knew immediately—he had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. By the time Luke made it to the net, Murphy had flatlined. “Where’s the defibrillator?” a good Samaritan asked after checking his pulse.
As Luke provided its location thanks to his earlier walk through, Kate was on the next court over playing a game with Duke. When she heard someone went down, Kate instinctively knew it was her husband, who uncharacteristically donned an all-black kit that day. By the time she made her way over, an ear, nose and throat doctor was holding Murphy’s head, two active nurses were by his side, and CPR was underway as the AED was opened up.
“In the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘Okay, we have to take care of Murphy, but our four-year-old is across the court right now watching this,’” recalls Kate. “And regardless of what happens, I’m going to have to take care of him.”
As each passing second went by, Luke mercilessly put up his own defense. This was the toughest moment he’d ever stared down.
Unleashing every ounce of fight, out came “Jensens never quit!”
Murphy persevered but flatlined again. “Duke and Billy (Murphy’s 22-year-old son) are waiting,” implored Luke.
Two more touch and goes followed. “Jensens never quit!” repeated Luke at the top of his lungs, as tears poured out.
“I’ve never seen anybody with such raw emotion, yelling someone’s name or rooting someone on,” reflects Kate. “The medical people were doing the work, but Luke—honestly—I think carried everybody through that eternity.”
After 18 minutes, the ambulance arrived. Jensen had been shocked six times by the time he was rushed to the hospital. When Kate and Luke got there, they were initially told there was no Murphy Jensen in the building, until realizing he had been admitted under his legal first name, Marc.
Going through the process of notifying loved ones about the situation, the two were eventually informed Murphy would be induced into a coma. There was no way of knowing about the extent of Murphy’s head injuries from hitting the ground.
“We just tried to focus on the very next indicated step. There were a lot of medical things that went our way, starting with quality CPR and the AED being administered really quickly,” says Kate. “It was that first 36 hours where we knew the least, and it looked the worst. So we just clung to every positive amount of feedback we got.”
While Kate balanced caring for Duke with hospital visits, Luke kept the wider tennis community up to date. Roger Federer, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Chris Evert and Andre Agassi were among the hundreds to check in. Gavin Rossdale sang songs over FaceTime, and Luke read highlighted passages from his brother’s Alcoholics Anonymous book.
Once Murphy was weaned off the cooling protocol, Kate and Luke were advised to give him 72 hours to wake up before allowing for concerns to set in. As the three-day mark approached, Luke was equal parts confident and cautious that Murphy responded by squeezing his hand at the end of visiting hours. By the next morning, Murphy began talking.
Each had a special moment of clarity that their beloved goofball was alive. For Luke, it was a conversation Murphy had with James Gibson, President and CEO of Garden of the Gods Resort and Club.
“James says, ‘Murphy, you were playing an exhibition against Luke and you went into cardiac arrest.’ Murphy goes, ‘Did I win?’ That was the time when I was like, okay, he’s back. That was hilarious,” he reminisces.
When Murphy asked Kate what happened, she explained, “You’ve been in a coma, you’re coming out of it now.”
Jensen turned with a declaration,
“This is gonna make a great chapter in my book!”
Reacted Kate, “At that point I turned to the nurse and said, ‘He’s going to be fine.’ That is Murphy.”
Patience has been a major part of Murphy’s recovery process. Strength and stamina had to be rebuilt. Interactions with Duke and larger group gatherings were tightly managed to ensure his brain wasn’t overloaded. Over time, Jensen has grappled with how his experience impacted those around him. When returning to his therapist for a first post-recovery session, Jensen coped with a “Why am I still here?” struggle.
More is being revealed every day, though Jensen has one purpose forever embedded—an implanted defibrillator in his chest. It’s a reminder of the cosmic world, one that linked him together with the Steven M. Gootter Foundation by chance nearly 10 years earlier and served up an education about a powerful tool that ultimately saved his life.
“I’ll tell you why I’m still here in this moment. It’s to ensure that, at the very least, an AED is available everywhere tennis is happening,” proclaims Jensen.
Coming full circle in April, a triumphant return to the Gootter Grand Slam event in Tucson marked Jensen’s first tennis appearance since his sudden cardiac arrest. He and Luke reunited to take on Bob and Mike Bryan in a set full of banter and doubles entertainment. Murphy, who ditched the black look for an all-white ensemble, was bestowed with the Gootter Foundation Philanthropic Award in an evening that saw the nonprofit raise $350,000 to put towards AED distribution and research.
Today, Jensen recognizes he’s more than his head ever said he’d be. Staring into the mirror, Murphy tells himself that he’s enough, whether that’s as an advocate, ally, athlete, father, husband or peer. With a heart the size of his, this survivor illustrates what it means to feel alive.
After all, Jensens never quit.