Looking back on that fateful day near the 35th anniversary of Elvis’ death, DeVane, the medical director of Bradley County Fire and Rescue and medical adviser to the Cleveland Fire Department, elaborated on the day that became a defining moment in his life and career as an emergency room physician.
“I was working at the hospital that day as an acting intern on the resuscitation team when they called a code — which was a resuscitation in progress in the emergency room,” DeVane said. “Since I was on the resuscitation team I went into the emergency room that was packed with people. They were initiating the first steps of resuscitation. I made my way around the stretcher and relieved the person doing the chest compressions.”
DeVane said he did not know he was working on Elvis Presley, explaining, “When you go into resuscitation your mind goes into a series of steps that you have to take to give the person the best opportunity for survival. We were in those steps — not really thinking about outcome or who the person is, but thinking about getting things done as efficiently as possible.”
Still, looking down at the person and having grown up just two miles from Elvis’ house on Whitehaven, DeVane said it did cross his mind, “Man! This guy could be Elvis Presley.’”
“I kept looking and pumping on his chest,” he said. “Then I looked down and saw he had on his signature, trademark necklace, which had TCB and a lightning bolt emboldened on it. He gave that to friends and associates.”
As he kept performing CPR, DeVane said others in the packed room wanted to know who the man was he was working on and someone blurted out, “It’s Elvis Presley.”
Because he was slightly above the crowd perched on a stool while performing resuscitation, DeVane said he could see everyone in the room and noticed Elvis’ private-duty nurse across the way and his physician facing the foot of the stretcher. The emergency room and paramedic staff continued to work on Elvis for quite a while but to no avail. The King was gone. Dr. Nichopolous listed the official cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia. Silence followed. Reality was setting in for everyone. Elvis was officially dead.
“It’s one of those surreal moments in life that — when you look back it doesn’t seem real, but at the time it was very real,” DeVane said. “He still looked like Elvis would look in life, but paler, obviously.”
According to DeVane, Presley “was never defibrillated because he never developed any kind of a heart beat.” Since Presley was found at home and paramedics had worked on him there before transporting him to Baptist Memorial Hospital, DeVane estimates Presley was out at least an hour before he worked on him.
“It was quite an experience in life,” DeVane admits. “And as you find out in emergency medicine, life is full of experiences. When you look back you wonder how you made it through all of them.”
DeVane said he grew up a fan of Elvis, who had lived not far from him in the community, but Elvis was older and had a different circle of friends.
“He use to come out and play football at our high school football stadium at Whitehaven High School,” DeVane recalled. But memories of that charismatic youth who turned rock and roll on its heels and took music to a new level of excitement took a back seat to what had unfolded on Aug. 16, 1977.
DeVane admits, “It really was the beginning of a career in medicine that made me want to try to make an impact. It was like a first experience to see exactly what kind of influence my opportunities in medicine provided.”
Having completed a residency in internal medicine at the city of Memphis Hospital, he moved to Cleveland and have been here ever since working as the medical director at Bradley Memorial Hospital, the medical director at Bradley County EMS for 25 years and an emergency medicine physician at SkyRidge Medical Center.
Married 38 years to Jo Lee DeVane, a physician at Lee University’s clinic, the couple has three children, Ben, who has a Ph.D. in educational technology, Taylor, a commercial pilot at American Eagle and Brianna, a fifth-grade student at Tennessee Christian School.
Having 35 years of experience and practices as E.R. physician, even having been stabbed by a patient once, DeVane said he is honored to be in his profession and to work side-by-side with dedicated professionals who oftentimes risk their lives for the sake of others — a profession he links to his faith.
“I feel pretty strongly that if I had not had my Maker walking with me throughout my career in the ER, I wouldn’t have made it these 35 years,” he said. “But every time you pass these public servants it would be nice if people would stop and give them a pat on the back and thank them, because they risk their lives for relatively little in reward other than the fact that they made an impact on someone’s life.”