Aug 24, 2021ATCs Acting Fast: “He Saved My Life”
When Morgan Krout was starting her new job as an assistant athletic trainer, one of her advisors at Catawba College pulled her aside for a query: “What are you going to do when you have to hook an athlete up to an AED and safe a life?”
She looked back at him.
“I hope I never have to.”
Less than four years later, she found herself staring down at the cross country runner draped motionless in her arms, realizing, “I’m going to have to do CPR and put an AED on a 17-year-old child.”
It’s every athletic trainer’s worst nightmare — far worse than the nastiest compound fracture — searching for a pulse and not finding one.
In 2018, Ashley Labrador found herself in that perilous position when a fan collapsed in the stands at Brian McMahon High School in Connecticut. Her story had a joyful outcome, and thanks to her continued efforts in the field she was named the 2021 Most Valuable High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by Training & Conditioning.
Here are four more examples where quick-thinking and fast-acting high school athletic trainers meant the difference between life and death.
David Silverstein knows his story could have a different ending.
A licensed athletic trainer for 11 years, he had recently started volunteering to work at Shaw High School football games in East Cleveland.
“I knew they didn’t have anybody,” he said.
In December, Shaw’s athletic director asked if Silverstein could start working basketball games. He agreed.
Six-foot-1 senior wing Zaharius Hillmon was the first athlete he met. A couple of weeks later, on Jan. 12, Hillmon ended the first half of a game against Villa Angela-St. Joseph (VASJ) High School with a dunk, then made his way toward the locker room.
“It was a great game,” Hillmon said. “I was doing my thing.”
He remembers walking through the doors into the locker room. His next memory is of waking up in a hospital room three days later.
Silverstein will never forget what happened in between.
When he arrived in the locker room, he saw two players cradling Hillmon’s head. His eyes were rolled back and he was laboring with agonal (involuntary) breathing. Silverstein checked Hillmon’s ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation), then took a moment to gather himself.
“I counted down from five and cleared any doubt, anxiety, and fear out of my head,” he said.
He started chest compressions and sent a student to fetch an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). After about five minutes, paramedics arrived and were able to restore Hillmon’s pulse and breathing.
“I’m incredibly thankful,” Hillmon said. “He wasn’t even there that long and the fact that he saved my life in that short amount of time knowing me is amazing.”
Hillmon, who hopes to walk-on at Georgia Southern, underwent open-heart surgery in February.
Silverstein, meanwhile, was connected with AT Cares, a peer-to-peer network that helps athletic trainers deal with the aftermath of traumatic incidents. He said that was a valuable outlet, but nothing compared to running into Hillmon at a game later in the season.
“He saved my life, so I felt like I owed him something,” Hillmon noted. “All I had was a hug at that moment.”
“It makes everything worth it when he gave me a big hug and told me how grateful he was for saving his life,” Silverstein said.
Frank Sanchez and Morgan Krout
“The story starts like any other story,” Frank Sanchez begins. “It’s just like any other day.”
This day was Nov. 18, 2020, and assistant athletic trainer Morgan Krout was at the finish line of a Pinecrest High School cross country meet in Southern Pines, North Carolina, when she noticed a young runner wobbling toward the finish line.
“She didn’t look right,” said Krout, who now works as a physical therapy assistant in Fayetteville. “You have lots of runners who look tired, but she didn’t look right.”
Juliette Suh, a senior from nearby Jack Britt High School, collapsed in the home stretch. At first, she insisted she would finish the race, but as Suh lay on her side, propped up on an elbow, her eyes began rolling back in her head and she collapsed in Krout’s arms.
“As soon as she collapsed we lost her pulse and she quit breathing,” Krout said.
Sanchez, Pinecrest’s head athletic trainer, was in the trail cart when he got called to the finish line.
Krout had already begun sternal rubs and the two began chest compressions. They were joined by the school’s wrestling coach, Bob Curtin. The trio continued CPR for 15 minutes, including two rounds with the portable AED, before EMS arrived.
“It felt like forever,” Krout said. “I think the worst part about it is I got to the point I was so tired I couldn’t continue. I looked at my principal and I broke down.”
After three shocks from the EMS, Suh had a slight pulse and was rushed away in an ambulance, nearly 30 minutes after she’d first collapsed.
“She left the golf course and we had no idea if she was going to make it or not,” Sanchez said. “For all we knew, she was gone when she left the course.”
Pinecrest Principal Stephanie Philips tried to send Krout home, but instead, she found herself drawn to volleyball practice. She was too fearful of something happening to another kid in her absence.
A few hours later she received an update that Suh was alive, but little information beyond that. Finally, a couple of days later, Krout’s phone rang at 6 a.m. It was Philips.
“It scared me, to be honest,” Krout said. “When I answered she said ‘Hey, just so you know, she’s going to be OK.’ I cried on the way to work that morning.”
Sanchez credits Suh’s survival to teamwork on the scene.
“We had volunteer coaches, our principal, our athletic director, assistant principal, and everyone did everything they were supposed to do without a blink,” he said. “There were no missteps. That could be one of the reasons why we were able to save her life.”
Steve Powell recorded the sounds of his own death.
When the assistant wrestling coach at Easton Area High School in Pennsylvania had collapsed in the wrestling room, his phone began recording as athletic trainer Andrew Neeld arrived.
“There’s a recording of Andrew talking very calmly and directing people what to do and where to go,” said Easton Athletic Director James Pokrivsak. “That was very soothing to hear, but also scary because of knowing what was going on at that moment.”
When Neeld heard the recording for the first time, he felt relief.
“I got that reassurance that I was calm the whole time, that I did help lead and direct everybody and keep a calm atmosphere,” he said.
He credits his assuredness at that moment to his training at St. Luke’s University Health Network, his employer, and his colleagues at Easton, where he has worked for six years.
“What it came down to was everyone did their job well,” he said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do. The [simulation] labs, the training in the past, [it] paid off.”
It all began a little after 3 p.m. on the afternoon of March 10. Neeld was in the school’s athletic training office, which houses three trainers from St. Luke’s and one from the school district.
A student rushed in, beckoning him to the wrestling room. He found the 67-year-old Powell starting to turn purple on the floor with no pulse and no breathing.
“I felt very relaxed,” Neeld said. “I knew I had a job and I had to get it done and I needed to use my two co-workers in the room and (head wrestling) coach (Jody) Karam once he got in the room. I had to use my tools.”
Neeld was joined by fellow St. Luke’s athletic trainers Tyler Countess, who fetched an AED, and Julia LoBasso. Rochelle Gilbert, the district’s athletic trainer dialed 911.
After shocking Powell once and continuing CPR, EMS arrived, hooked him up to their equipment, and detected a pulse.
“Once EMTs took over and I could step back is when I went through the emotions,” Neeld said. “All your tears, all that sweat is coming out. You hear them say he’s saved, but you’re not 100 percent convinced yet.”
Easton’s coaching staff ensured a swift exit for the ambulance crew.
“Once they heard what was happening, they jumped in to clear the [parking] lot away, clear the opening and direct the squad to the door,” Pokrivsak said. “Everyone played a small part in it, which helped play a big part because it ran smoothly.”
On March 3, Madison County High School athletic trainer Kathryn Crouthamel’s main duty was football practice, but she decided to stop by a neighboring cross country meet.
As she got the lay of the land, she noticed Rappahannock coach Kenny Burt.
“He was running all over the place,” she said. “He had a sling on his arm that I later found out was from shoulder surgery. … He’s in great shape. I didn’t think much of it, but it was just enough to have my eye on him.”
Suddenly, she heard her principal yelling. Burt was on the ground unresponsive, so Crouthamel checked for a pulse. Nothing.
“I’d never been in this situation,” Crouthamel said. “You just hope in those moments you’ll remember what you’ve learned and what you’ve practiced for so many years.”
She found the steps came flowing back to her.
“That list was going through my head,” she said. “In those times of high stress, high alert, you’re not going to have something like that running through your head unless you’ve read it over and over and practiced it over and over.”
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An assistant principal grabbed a portable AED from Crouthamel’s car.
“All this commotion was happening, but we were able to stay calm,” Crouthamel said. “We weren’t freaking out. I remember talking to each other and our voices were calm and not panicking.”
Moments after the ambulance arrived, Burt began coming to.
“I could breathe for the first time in, it felt like, two years,” Crouthamel said.