Zachary, ‘Zach’ as his friends call him, is an energetic Grade 10 student who loves sports, having played competitive hockey and basketball over the years. “No signs of any heart issues EVER in his life,” says Zach’s Mom Stephanie.
However, on October 28 at an after-school basketball tryout – his heart stopped.
“Everything was going well, with students practicing skill drills, and then I asked them to split into playing 5 on 5 games,” recalls teacher and Coach Mike, the OFSAA Boys’ Representative, NCSSAA Convenor, and Boys’ Basketball Coach at St. Mother Teresa High School.
It had been almost two years into the pandemic at that point. Coach Mike hardly knew many of these ‘new’ faces, even more so with their wearing COVID masks while playing basketball.
“I was adding names to my team shortlist when I saw a student come off the court hunched over, says Coach Mike. “It was Zach, and he was gasping for air. At first, I thought it was just the mask and exertion and I told him to take a few minutes on the side while I turned my attention across the gym.”
Suddenly Zach collapsed face-first on the floor sending an echoing thud across the gym that made Mike immediately turn to his aid.
“My instincts kicked in. It was the (ACT) training” says Mike.
“I asked my Assistant Coach, Yvan, to call 911 and clear students out of the gym,” says Mike. “I assessed Zach and started CPR.”
“Coach told me to get the defibrillator right away” recalls Zach’s friend Malacki.
“I ran fast, my friend’s life depended on it. I gave the AED to Coach. He put the pads on Zach and followed the instructions. He knew what to do,” adds Malacki.
In the gym, paramedics took over to revive Zach, continuing to use the school’s AED that had been donated by the ACT Foundation.
“I can tell you as a mom, receiving the phone call was nothing short of traumatic. But to hear over and over in the days that followed from paramedics, ER physicians, and the team of cardiologists, that had the coach not responded so quickly performing CPR and using the AED, Zach would not be with us today,” says Stephanie. “We are very, very thankful that Coach Mike knew CPR, and that the school had an AED and the Coach was trained in how to use it. That is what made the difference for Zach.”
Zach underwent open-heart surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) to fix a previously unknown heart defect he has had since birth. Making a full recovery, Zach returned to school in February.
“High schools definitely need to teach CPR,” says Zach. “Most people think that only older people get heart attacks, but look at me, I am living proof that it can happen to anyone. It’s also important to have an AED to make schools safer.”
In the days following Zach’s rescue, Coach Mike suggested that a second AED be installed closer to the gym. The ACT Foundation is working with Zach’s family to help make that donation happen. His mother Stephanie thinks it should be mandated to have an AED in all high schools, especially with all the sports activities. “I would strongly encourage all schools to get one, get an AED now. Do it,” she says. “Because you don’t know until you need one.”
Upon returning to school it was hard for Zach, who had to sit on the sidelines to cheer his teammates. Thanks to the quick lifesaving actions of those around him that night at the try-out, he is able to resume his place on the court with a thumbs up from his health team. Zach is grateful for every precious new day he has ahead. He looks forward to playing sports and driving having successfully acquired another milestone, his license.
The ACT Foundation set up the High School CPR and AED Program at St. Mother Teresa High School in 1998 for CPR and in 2009 for AED. With the support of community partners, an AED was donated to St. Mother Teresa and Ottawa high schools in 2009.
ACT’s Ontario provincial partner is Hydro One and ACT’s National Health Partners are AstraZeneca Canada, and Amgen Canada.
The Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation is the award-winning, national charitable organization establishing free CPR and defibrillator training programs in high schools across Canada. ACT raises funds to donate mannequins and teacher training to schools and guides schools in program set-up and long-term sustainability. More than 4.8 million youth have been trained in CPR by their teachers through this lifesaving program to date.