Quick-thinking high school wrestling coaches save student whose heart stopped

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[PHOTO SOURCE: NJ.com]

Brandon Gonzalez looked every bit a dominant force as he entered his New Jersey high school wrestling match on Wednesday evening. On the small side of the 220-pound division, the Donovan high school junior pinned his larger opponent from Lakewood High in just a 20 seconds.

Then he just laid there.

At first Gonzalez’s coach Steven Glawson thought the 16-year-old was just showboating a bit, exercising his dominance over a quickly pinned opponent who was still beneath him. But when his opponent rolled away and Gonzalez still remained unmoving on the ground, that’s when the situation became clear.

Gonzalez had fainted, his pupils were dilated and soon his pulse stopped. Gonzalez wasn’t showboating; he was experiencing cardiac arrest.

“This is a young, healthy kid,” Glawson, a 56-year-old oral and maxillofacial surgeon by day, said on Thursday, while recalling the harrowing few minutes that Gonzalez’s life was in danger.

Glawson was one of several people on the scene that rushed to Gonzalez’s side. He performed CPR while Lakewood assistant coaches John DeMarco and Josh Huber did chest compressions and helped keep Gonzalez’s airway open. When initial CPR efforts didn’t revive Gonzalez, however, the team fetched a defibrillator, which Glawson credits as the game changer.

“The time until defibrillation was within four minutes,” Glawson said. “If we had to wait 15 or 20 minutes, he would’ve probably died.”

According to statistics kept by the American Heart Association, 7,037 kids under age 18 experienced cardiac arrest in 2015 outside a hospital setting. Of those 7,037, an average of just 7.2 percent survived when not given immediate attention. That survival rate jumped to 71.4 percent, however, when help was on hand and defibrillation was used.

“The reason is when somebody goes into cardiac arrest, there’s a very narrow window of time during which CPR and defibrillation can be effective,” Mary Newman, president of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, said on Thursday. “After about 10 minutes, the chances of survival are greatly diminished. It goes down about 10 percent per minute.”

Gonzalez didn’t have to risk those statistics, however, thanks to Janet’s Law. Passed in 2012 after a high school cheerleader died when her heart stopped during practice one day, the law requires that all New Jersey schools have CPR-trained staff and a defibrillator on site.

“I’ve had three of my own boys wrestle for me and you kind think, yeah, this could happen,” Glawson, who strongly supports the law, said. “God forbid it’s somewhere where they’re not prepared for it.”

Joseph Arminio, athletic coordinator for the Toms River Regional School District, commended those who jumped into action on Wednesday.

“As a district, we are extremely proud of the actions of our coaches,” Arminio told Toms River Patch. “People can be certified, but when push comes to shove, it takes a special human being to jump into action when everything is on the line, in that situation, in front of a crowd like that.”

Glawson said the rescue mission ended “almost like you see in the movies.”

“[Gonzalez’s] eyes opened, he was breathing really well, strong pulse,” he said. “He came through.”

Glawson said Gonzalez’s first instinct was to get up and return to the bench. He knew his match was over but wasn’t sure if he’d won, so he asked, Glawson recalled with a laugh.

The two schools decided to postpone the rest of the match after the incident, which Glawson said caused several of Gonzalez’s teammates and some of the parents to break into tears.

“It wasn’t until afterward that the emotions set in,” he said, noting the high school was offering counseling to the team.

[PHOTO SOURCE: NJ.com]
[PHOTO SOURCE: NJ.com]
Glawson said Gonzalez’s parents weren’t at the match, but when the student’s mother was later informed of what happened, she “burst into tears” before another athlete’s mother drove her to the hospital, where Gonzales remained on Thursday.

“They’re going to do a whole battery, a barrage of tests,” Glawson said, noting he is unaware of any preexisting condition Gonzalez might have. “Hopefully we’re just dealing with a fainting [episode] and not anything intrinsic, . . . [but] I think it’s gonna turn out well. Last night he called me from the hospital and said he felt great.”

Gonzalez’s teammates and others, meanwhile, remain supportive. Along with expressing their appreciation for the high school junior on Twitter, they’ve also planned to bus to the hospital later Thursday to visit him.

“Definitely the whole community wants to see how he’s doing,” Glawson said. “He’s a great kid. He works hard when he’s in practice and he’s just always smiling.”

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Marissa Payne