On a beautiful autumn day this past November, families from across Washington State drove out among the apple orchards of Yakima Valley for the Northwest Fall LAX Fest. Against that quiet pastoral setting, no one would have expected the emergency that would end the tournament.
Referee Jeff Bambrick remembers the moment he saw high schooler Samuel collapse during the championship game. The clock had reached the 2- to 3-minute mark, when an offensive player fired a shot at the goal that struck Samuel instead. Initially, it appeared that he had just been hit in the lower abdomen as he crumpled to the ground.
The coach and trainer came out on the field as Jeff spoke with the other officials to determine whether or not to stop the clock.
After a minute or so, Jeff went over to see how Samuel was doing. “As I walked up, I heard agonal gasping. It’s a very distinctive type of gasping,” Jeff says. “In my career I’ve heard it quite a few times, and I immediately recognized this guy is very near dead.” He knew to start chest compressions immediately as Samuel’s gear and helmet were removed while about 150 parents looked on from the sidelines.
Jeff’s 20-year career has been with the Tacoma Fire Department, where Jeff’s a lieutenant and serves as the training paramedic. He teaches CPR, advanced cardiac life support and pediatric life support to the 400-person department and general public as a Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association (AHA).
He’s also been on a lacrosse field in some capacity – player, coach, ref – since his days as a high school player back in the ‘80s.
After a few minutes of hands-only CPR, Samuel started breathing again and Jeff could find a pulse. Just then, paramedics arrived and Jeff told them, “I’m pretty sure this is commotio cordis,” an often lethal disruption of the heart rhythm after a blow to the area directly over the heart at just the right time in the cycle of the heartbeat.
Jeff knows the condition well. “As long as they get CPR immediately and the brain gets oxygen again, they usually have a full recovery, and that’s what happened in this case,” he says. and the hospital cardiologist monitored him for 48 hours and sent him home. “He’s absolutely fine,” Jeff says. He knows this first hand. He and Samuel recently had the opportunity to reunite at another tournament in Seattle.
Commotio cordis started gaining attention in lacrosse circles back in the early 2000s after a few high-profile deaths raised awareness around the condition. It’s a higher risk in lacrosse so U.S. Lacrosse has had an AED grant program for more than 10 years.
Still, Bruce Griffin, PhD, and the director of the Center for Sport Science for U.S. Lacrosse saw the need for something more, beyond just the device itself – an accessible training program for youth coaches.
Often in youth sports there are no athletic trainers, EMS or other duty-to-respond personnel on-site, so if a cardiac arrest occurs during practice or during a game, it is important that coaches, parents and athletes are prepared to act. When the AHA released its CPR in Schools™ Training Kit, Bruce saw its potential and felt that with a few modifications it could be adapted to serve youth sports needs, so he reached out to the AHA.
Fast forward to LaxCon 2020, and the launch of AHA’s CPR & First Aid in Youth Sports™ Training Kit, designed for youth coaches to ensure they and their community know the lifesaving skills of CPR, how to use an AED and how to help during sports-related emergencies. Bruce calls it a game-changer for local youth sports organizations, typically run by volunteers with limited training. The kit allows the average person to facilitate training for 10 – 20 people, in less than an hour.
That’s time well spent considering sudden cardiac death (SCD) during sports is a tragic event that has a significant impact on friends, families, communities and sports organizations. Having an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for coaches and their support team is key to survival in the event of cardiac arrest and CPR could double or triple a person’s chance of survival.
Not unlike others passionate about more “save stories” in sports, as a 15-year-old youth basketball coach, Bruce witnessed an incident that has stayed with him all these years – an official had a sudden cardiac arrest right in front of him. He didn’t know what to do, but the mother of one of his athletes performed CPR and the official lived. That made him never want another coach to face that situation without the knowledge of how to help.
Knowledge is indeed power in these situations – the power to save someone’s life. As both a paramedic and ref, Jeff has his own take on the importance of an EAP and asking all the right questions before a game: “How does the ambulance actually get to where we are? Do we have to open a gate? Do they have to drive onto the field? That’s all stuff you need to plan out beforehand in a pregame meeting,” he says.
“It’s so important that the coaches and referees know where the emergency equipment is. The wrong time to find out is when something bad happens. You have to have a plan in place.”