“You there in the red shirt, go call 911,” I said confidently.
“You are 911!” roared the instructor whose class I was in.
It was an evening class via a local extension program that I had enrolled in to obtain my CPR certification in order to graduate from college with my degree in health and physical education. I was student teaching at the time, as well as working night jobs so I had missed a couple of classes. It was a first responder course and after getting my CPR card earlier in the term I had been less than a stellar student. I ended up not going to any more classes and withdrew from the class to save a couple of bucks, but it wasn’t the my last first responder course.
Shortly after the events of 9/11 I joined the local volunteer fire department. I had been teaching for five years and had found a strong conviction to emergency medical procedures—whether in health classes or weight room management, I felt a calling. Looking back, it was bad timing. I had little kids at the time, but I remembered from that earlier night class that those with emergency medical training were most likely to use it on family and friends as those are the people you are around the most. Thankfully I have never had to save my kids’ lives, but I did have a hand in saving a young man.
Getting a Save
I served as a volunteer firefighter for 5 years, I loved the training and the sense of teamwork that the job offered. Our department ran a lot of medicals, more than fires in fact. I worked on a lot of calls and people during that time, but never got to save a life during a call. I gave up the fire department to start a youth football league and coach my son.
One summer day while coaching at our summer high school program with my kids in tow, I got word that one of our players was down on the football field. It was surreal. The kid looked dead. We used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). One of our football coaches gave him chest compressions. Our athletic secretary gave him breaths. I pushed the button to give him the shock. It worked. He lived. We got a save.
Friends, Family, and SCA
Not only was this athlete a kid that we all had in class, he happened to be the son of one of my college football coaches. It was somebody I had a deep connection with. Holy cow, that instructor from 10 years prior was right. The kid’s name is Teddy and his dad, my coach, is Norm. Teddy collapsed on our field as a result of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). We were lucky to get him back that day, however this experience stood as proof for the saying “Luck is the result of preparation meeting opportunity.”
Our athletic secretary is a trained EMT instructor, I had first responder training, our football coach is married to a nurse, we had an AED, and we had an emergency action plan in place. Without these preparations in place, luck by itself may not have been enough to save the day.
SCA is an electrical problem where the normal rhythm of the heartbeat is disturbed, causing the heart to flutter instead of beat. The result is a quivering heartbeat that does not send oxygenated blood to the brain and vital organs. The only way to get the rhythm back is electricity via an AED. For comparison, a heart attack is a plumbing problem where a blockage refuses blood flow to and from the heart, leading to cardiac arrest.
SCA is scary, often the first sign or symptom of it is death, 95% of its victims die. A young athlete is jogging along, maybe staggers a bit, and BAM, they hit the ground dead. If this seems a bit harsh, it is intended to be. Without an AED within our facility Teddy would be dead. The statistics aren’t blown out of proportion, SCA is the #1 killer of student athletes and #1 cause of death on school campuses.
AEDs work, and anyone can save a life. I highly encourage any coach of any age athlete attend a session on how to use an AED. The trainings are free and lifesaving. In addition, I encourage all coaches and staffs to have an emergency response plan that includes information about SCA and AEDs. The Minnesota State High School League provides a fantastic resource via the Anyone Can Save a Life program. Another great resource is Parent Heart Watch. This online forum contains abundant information that serves as another great resource for coaches.
Johnson is a graduate of Normandale Community College, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, playing football at both NCC and Augsburg. “RJ” teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 52 team state titles in histenure; Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Specialist – both certifications with Distinction and is the Minnesota NSCA State Director. NSCA awards include Minnesota High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year 2010; State Director of the Year 2013; Strength of America Award 2015; and 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. In 2017 he became a founding Board Member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA); and serves as a Regional Director for the organization. A former volunteer firefighter, he also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety for participation in a lifesaving CPR/AED effort to revive a player that suffered sudden cardiac arrest while at practice. Johnson is a frequent clinician, speaker, author and his Wayzata Trojan Power program has been visited by over 50 other high school and small college programs. He also volunteered his time in the Rockford School District where he and his wife and four children reside by serving as the Rockford Area Youth Athletic Association President and Youth Football Director.