Despite being a month and two days younger than his cousin Ronnie Murphy, Verona Area High School student James Robinson has always claimed to be his “big cousin.”
Robinson has earned some clout behind that statement, after he saved Murphy’s life on the bus last month.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the two sophomores got on the bus near their home in Fitchburg. Shortly after, Murphy experienced a seizure. It prompted Robinson, who knew his cousin had seizures, to figure out what to do within seconds.
The two boys are playful with one another, their mothers told the Press last week, and are often goofing around. But when Murphy continued to dig his hands into his cousin’s leg and start wiping his hands on his face to get his attention, it became a sign to Robinson that he wasn’t okay.
“I was like, ‘bro, what is wrong with you?’” Robinson recalled. “I was just thinking he was being weird, but at the same time, curious what was wrong with you.”
When Murphy had gotten on the bus a few minutes earlier, he had felt fine, he said, and even playfully argued with his cousin. But the bus took a corner, and it was in that moment that Murphy started to feel “sick to his stomach,” he said. The seizure quickly progressed into Murphy not being able to talk, and limiting his other senses.
“I had music coming out of the (headphones), and I could hear it, but I couldn’t hear what the words were saying,” he said. “I just felt weird.”
When Murphy started shaking, Robinson’s first emotion was fear.
While Robinson was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Murphy’s body had curled up and turned stiff. It prompted Robinson to start crying, he said, as he tried to listen to the instructions the dispatcher was giving him.
“This lasted 40 seconds, but if felt like a lifetime,” Robinson said.
He was able to get Murphy to the ground, straighten his body out and hold his head away from the ground so he didn’t cause additional harm to himself.
Those actions were life-saving for Murphy, his mother Jamiya Brown said.
“James, honestly, a lot of the things you did, while not being trained to do, was good,” Brown told her nephew during an interview with the Press. “It’s different seeing it, and having to react at that instant … the reaction that he had to put forth was life-saving.”
Murphy kept going in and out of the seizure, he said, and whenever he’d come to, he saw Robinson there by his side and asking him if he was okay.
It made Murphy feel safer during the seizure knowing his cousin was there for him, he added.
With the death of friend Shay Watson, a former VAHS student who was murdered in late August, still fresh in his mind, Robinson knew he couldn’t afford to lose another person in his life.
Robinson said he was filled with emotion while Murphy was having the seizure, knowing he was one of the only people in the moment responsible for his cousin’s survival.
“Say if I wouldn’t have protected his head, he probably would have never woke up,” he said. “I couldn’t lose him, so I had to try my best to save him.”
Murphy and Robinson may be cousins, but they were raised like twins, Trish Crisler, Robinson’s mother, said.
“You aren’t going to have one without the other,” she said. “They need each other … they have other siblings, but out of all of our family, these two are like the real brothers, like twins.”
The boys grew up alongside each other, and spend much of their time together goofing around, their mothers said. But when it really mattered, they were proud that their sons looked out for one another.
Still, the boys’ closeness caused some worry for Brown and Crisler, who were concerned about Robinson being negatively impacted by watching his cousin go through a seizure. Worry subsided and turned to pride when the mothers started receiving tearful calls from the EMS and VAHS principal Pam Hammen commending Robinson for his actions that saved his cousin’s life.
“We’re just thankful they know their limits of playing too much, because in that moment, they both got headphones on and they both was playing,” Crisler said. “I’m glad you knew that wasn’t a playing situation.”
At the end of the day, Brown and Crisler see the incident as a testament to how they’ve raised their children.
“I’m proud of us,” Crisler said. “It’s kind of like a thank you and a pat on the back that we did a good job, because if we wouldn’t have put that in them, it would have probably gone a different way.”