Jan 29, 2015
Life Savers

ryanjohnson-head.jpgBy Ryan Johnson

Last month at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., a football player went into cardiac arrest during summer workouts. But thanks to quick action by members of the Wayzata staff, including Ryan Johnson, CSCS, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Coach Practitioner–and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED)–the student-athlete survived the heart attack. Here, Johnson takes us through the harrowing experience.

On the morning of Tuesday, June 16, I was on the phone with our district payroll administrator working on time cards for our summer program when a breathless assistant athletic director ran into my office and informed me that a kid working out on the football field was having a seizure. I hung up the phone and ran toward the field. Along the way I encountered our athletic department secretary. She is an EMT like I am, and was jogging toward the field with an AED in her arms. From 100 yards away, I started going through the possible scenarios in my mind and figured that the kid was undergoing cardiac arrest.

I got to the fallen player first and found our football team’s defensive coordinator performing chest compressions him. I asked the coach if he had administered any breaths yet and without stopping the compressions, he said “no.” So I checked his pulse: nothing. Then I checked his respirations, finding his breathing pattern shallow and poor.

I had the coach stop the chest compressions so that I could get a better feel for the student’s condition and realized we were losing him fast. He was experiencing aganal breathing and time was running short.

When the secretary arrived with the AED, I told her the kid was gone and she quickly took action. She put a pocket mask on the student, which allowed for her to begin respirations and took the lead doing CPR with our coach, breathing and counting respirations for him. Our coach had been giving compressions for two minutes and 30 seconds prior to ventilation–the correct protocol according to my most recent fire service training.

At this time, the police showed up with an oxygen tank and a bag valve that fit the pocket mask already on the student. I then tore the kid’s shirt off and placed the AED pads on his chest and prepared to administer the electrical shock.

By this time, a couple of nurses had shown up and were assisting us. But they weren’t the only new arrivals, as the scene was drawing a lot of attention. The influx of bodies around the fallen student was interfering with the AED as it began analyzing his vitals. Sensing this, I raised my voice and told everyone to step back and to stop touching the student so the AED could do its job.

With space given, the AED detected no pulse and advised immediate treatment. I shouted for everyone to clear the patient because a shock was coming. Unfortunately, some people were still trying to check the student’s pulse so I had to yell again for everyone to clear the victim, this time more forcefully. The shock was delivered and the AED instructed us to begin CPR. Soon after, the EMT detected a pulse and ordered us to stop CPR.

The young man began taking very deep, almost sucking breaths as the tank delivered a steady flow of oxygen. The boy’s pulse wasn’t strong and his breaths were not clear and deep, but he was alive and hanging in. Minutes later, an ambulance arrived and the paramedics boarded and stabilized him. Earlier, someone from the school had contacted the student’s father and he was able to reach the field in time to jump in the ambulance with his son.

That day was very cool and overcast, with plenty of breeze. It had been a hot weekend and the team had completed a hard workout the previous day (Monday), when it was still quite hot. The day it happened the kids were doing some running drills, nothing too hard, and this young man kept stumbling forward and collapsed. The doctors determined that the cause of his heart attack was either completely unknown or genetic in nature. The treatment for both of these scenarios is to have an automatic defibrillator inserted into the chest, thus ending his playing days.

Last Monday, the day after father’s day, the student-athlete and his family visited our team to let us all know how much they appreciated everyone’s efforts to save his life. He tearfully told us that Wayzata football has become too much a part of his life to give up and he wants to help us in any way he can and still be a part of our team. We welcomed him to join the staff and help assist in any way he could.

The media was on hand for his return, and over the course of the interviews, I answered several questions regarding the situation and the eventual outcome. Several factors contributed to the successful outcome, and one of the most influential was the fact that we had just had an emergency in early May, which I blogged about on this site.

That experience pushed us to further discuss CPR basics and emergency response situations. As a result, we fine-tuned our response protocol by meeting and talking about what could have been done differently.

During a debriefing after this latest event, we decided to include two days of basic first aid training, as well as CPR and AED training for all 32 of our summer staff members. Personally, I know that my fire department and medical training allowed me to stay calm and look at the scene from a larger perspective while our EMT was able to get right to our victim, allowing for true teamwork.

The three of us who worked to bring the young man back are very humbled to be part of such an amazing story. The fact that a life was saved was due to several groups of people. Our coaches were amazing in their actions, the captains cleared the field of athletes, and the grounds crew immediately began unlocking gates and directing traffic for the medical and police crews. Our administrators were all on scene, but did not interfere with any of the medical proceedings–they allowed us to do our jobs.

The training of our coaches combined with having an AED on site is why our athlete lived. In the past 18 months, there have been eight cardiac arrests at Minnesota high schools. Six of them, including our guy, have lived. I cannot say enough about the simplicity and success of the AED and highly recommend one be accessible at all times, especially in a training or competition environment.

Recently, the Minnesota State High School League began offering a very educational program to help spot and treat students experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. For more information on the program, click on: “Anyone Can Save A Life.” It is not just a title–it is also happens to be the moral of the story here at Wayzata.

To read local news coverage of this event, click here and here.

To read more about Wayzata’s strength and conditioning program, go to: www.wayzata.k12.mn.us.

You can reach Ryan Johnson with your questions or blog ideas at: [email protected].

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