By Alecia Good, MEd, ATC
Athletic Trainer
MUSC Health Sports Medicine

A young athlete collapses to the ground in front of you. No trained emergency personnel are present on the scene. Would you know what to do?

As the athletic trainer at Pinewood Preparatory School, I have posted Emergency Action Plans in every sports venue. The plans include what to do, who to call, and exact locations for dispatch if there is a need to call for emergency personnel. The hope is that if an emergency should ever occur and I am not there the first responders (usually coaches), will know how to respond. Two weeks ago, these plans were put into place and the first responders were able to save a young man’s life.

One evening a few weeks ago, several alumni gathered to play pick up basketball in our gym. Around 8 pm one of the players crashed to the ground and was unresponsive with sudden cardiac arrest. The other players quickly acted to find two coaches that were in the other gym, send someone for an automated external defibrillator (AED), and call 911. Within minutes, one coach performed hands-only CPR while the other quickly attached and turned on the AED. They continued their rescue efforts until the paramedics arrived. 

Once at the ER it was reported that emergency personnel were able to regain a pulse after at least 10 to 20 minutes of the young man’s heart being stopped. The question the doctors then began to ask was what the brain function would be like because his heart was stopped for such a long duration. The doctors were comforted by the fact that early CPR and defibrillation was performed. 

After only 2 minutes without oxygen-rich blood from the heart, brain cells can start to die. After 6 minutes, brain death occurs. According to the American Heart Association, “Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a leading cause of death in the U.S.—but when ordinary people, not just doctors and EMTs, are equipped with the skills to perform CPR, the survival rate can double, or even triple.”

The young man was placed in a medically-induced coma with a cooling therapy for a few days. After his body was brought back up to temperature and the paralytic drugs were discontinued, the young man woke and returned to normal function. He was talking and moving around and has since been discharged from the hospital. 

Early CPR to manually pump the blood to the brain and early defibrillation to shock the heart back into rhythm is without a doubt what saved this young man’s life. Had the coaches and students not acted quickly to enact the emergency action plan, this story would not have had the same happy ending. To reiterate my colleague’s blog on the importance of knowing CPR, please take the time to learn CPR and how to use an AED. Here is a link for hands-only CPR from the American Heart Association. Even if you don’t have time to take a full course, this compression only technique can save a life as it did in this situation. More importantly, know your surroundings and be willing to act in the event of an emergency. Take note of where there may be emergency equipment (AED, first aid kit) and know your location to be able to give accurate directions. Any delay in action can be the difference in the outcome of the emergency.