By: Greg Russell
This wasn’t a role Jordan Nichols expected to play when he came to Memphis to take
part in the stage production of Pippin. And it certainly wasn’t the way Tara Miller thought she would begin her career in
Miller, a U of M nursing student, acted quickly to perform CPR, which helped save
The young Nichols, an up-and-coming Broadway star, was at the bar and eatery the Blue
Monkey in Midtown when he suddenly collapsed. Miller, who works at the restaurant
but had gone off duty and was about to exit the establishment, heard what she thought
was a bar stool fall over. She learned differently when she turned around.
“I heard the thump. It was just behind me and I saw that it was Jordan and I called
his name and he did not respond,” said Miller, a second semester student in the Loewenberg
School of Nursing. “I immediately went down and checked for a pulse. I asked his friends
who knew him better if he has diabetes or could be suffering from a seizure — you
are not supposed to do CPR on a person who is having a seizure.
“I then began CPR. I checked his airway, no vomit or anything, and started the breathing
and chest compressions. The pilot (FedEx employee Rick Wade) and my manager at the
restaurant then starting helping me and we took turns with the pushing and breathing
“I was getting a very weak, thready pulse, then it would go away. I would breathe
into his mouth and he would gasp for about nine seconds. I don’t know if that was
his muscles contracting but I knew he was not getting enough oxygen so I kept breathing.”
Miller said bystanders who called 911 twice got busy signals, but eventually the fire
department arrived and “they were amazing,” she said.
“They had the defibrillator out. They shocked him I’d say about seven times, and got
one regular heartbeat. They gave him 500 cc’s of adrenaline and still got nothing.
They worked on him for 30 minutes and could not get him stabilized and then they moved
him. When they carried him out, everyone sat in silence. Most of us thought we had
witnessed a young man die.
“The scariest thing was, there was a woman at my side and she kept saying, ‘Jordan,
Jordan, squeeze my hand,’ and she was very upset. I asked her, ‘Ma’am, who are you?’
She said, ‘I am his mother, please fix him.’ I told her I was just a student but was
trying. I was pressured.”
Miller said it was the longest 12 minutes of her life.
“It was mixed thoughts. Textbook stuff was flying around in my head that I had learned
in school. When he was breathing, I could hear the fluid in his lungs, and I was trying
to figure out what the problem was. I had to bring myself back and tell myself to
keep pushing and breathing.
“I am CPR certified, but I have only done it on a mannequin and it is a lot different
when you are doing it on a real person.”
Miller said she had problems sleeping that night.
“I was really emotional and I cried quite a bit. I was like, ‘This is what I am in
school for. This is what it is all about, helping people.’ I had nightmares that night.
I could hear the defibrillator going off and could see his face.”
Miller said she owed her quick actions to the U of M’s Loewenberg School of Nursing.
“This program is really awesome. It is so hard, but the teachers in the school, this
is their life. They are so helpful. All were nurses before. They tell you stories
about their experiences and they give you all kinds of resources to help you study.
“I have friends who have dropped out of other schools and are on the waiting list
for our nursing school. That is the kind of reputation it has. You get what you pay
for.” She said before being able to attend the nursing school, students must become
certified in CPR.
Nichols had taken leave from his acting jobs based in New York City to come to Memphis
to play in his father Jackie Nichols’ (BSEd ’72) production of Pippin at the new Playhouse on the Square.
Jordan Nichols, at right, in director Jonathan Butterell’s production
“It has been an emotional roller coaster,” said the elder Nichols. “I have been dealing
with the near death of my son, unfortunately having to replace him in the play and
opening a new theatre all in one month.”
After the incident, doctors determined Nichols, 24, suffers from a genetic heart condition
referred to as Brugada syndrome, which causes sudden and unexpected cardiac death
in apparently healthy individuals. He since has had a permanent defibrillator placed
in his chest.
“A lot of times it happens to people in their sleep,” said the 2003 graduate of White
Station High School. “If there is no one there to revive you, well, it is like having
a heart attack: your heart stops and that is basically it.
“Fortunately I was in a place where I had people around me who knew what to do. It
was a near-death experience. My heart definitely stopped. It was lucky for me that
Tara and the guy who worked at FedEx were there to help in reviving me until the paramedics
Nichols said he couldn’t recall anything about the evening.
“Apparently I was there for about five or 10 minutes and had sat down at the bar and
was waiting for friends to show up. When people showed up, I went and sat down and
apparently I was fine, nothing out of the ordinary. I stood up and collapsed on the
Nichols has lived in New York since graduating from high school. He attended New York
University before taking roles in The Fantasticks, Gypsy and Giant, to name a few. He said he is disappointed he won’t be able to star in Pippin, which runs Jan. 29 through Feb. 21 at Playhouse on the Square, but considers the
“It is definitely sad because I wanted to be a part of the first show in this new
space,” said Nichols of Playhouse’s state-of-the-art facility. “It is a part I always
wanted to play, but my dad keeps saying that it is almost as if I was supposed to
come down and do Pippin because all of this was supposed to happen, and if I had been in New York, it all
could have turned out differently.”
Ironically, Nichols’ first-ever performance was at age 6 in another local production
Nichols by chance had met Miller the night before the incident through a mutual friend.
He met her again shortly after being released from the hospital in mid-January, two
weeks after his near-death experience.
“It was weird. That was the first time I had seen her since the incident. She had
come to see me in the hospital, but my memory was spotty and I couldn’t remember anything
about what happened at the Blue Monkey or the hospital. So it was one of those things
where we were talking about it and she was telling me just how happy she was to see
me. I was like, ‘Well, I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for your quick thinking
and totally jumping in and taking whatever steps you could to save my life.
“It is one of those things of people being at the right place at the right time. I
was fortunate and lucky that I was there that night.”
Added Miller, “What he has, there are no symptoms. Most die in their sleep. It causes
sudden death by cardiac arrest. He was lucky he was awake and that he was out in a
public place. He is really lucky.”