AED saves young athlete; father urges ECG screenings


Editor’s note: A little over a month ago our guest blogger, Larry Gurganious, nearly lost his son to sudden cardiac arrest. Larry would like to share his story with us for the purpose of greater cardiac awareness, especially among young athletes.

Larry Gurganious: On February 2, 2010, my son collapsed three-fourths of the way through his high school basketball game due to sudden cardiac arrest. David had no medical history of heart problems and no family history was determined. Everyone was yelling that he was having a seizure, but he was not shaking or flopping around.

The coach, Lt. Michael Booker, determined David had no pulse and was not breathing. He started CPR with the help of another parent (also a firefighter). One did breaths; the other did chest compressions. When they became exhausted a deputy district attorney and nurse stepped in to take over.

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David Gurganious at a basketball game

Unfortunately, El Cerrito High School did not have an AED so David had to wait until the fire department, EMTs, and paramedics arrived to administer defibrillation. Luckily, they made it in time. (I understand this is not always the case so I feel especially blessed.) They were able to revive David with two shocks.

I was a wreck. One second I was watching my son play a sport he loved. The next, I watched in horror as an attempt was being made to save his life. All I could do, along with the rest of the 300 people in the audience, was fall to my knees and pray.

David was transported to a local hospital in critical condition. Later that night, he was put in the ICU in a medically induced coma.

The doctor said David may be brain dead or have severe brain damage in the event that he did wake up.

Editor’s note: According to the American Heart Association, the chances of survival after sudden cardiac arrest decrease seven to ten percent each minute defibrillation is delayed; chances of survival just ten minutes after sudden cardiac arrest are negligible. David is extremely fortunate to have received shocks from an AED in time and be back to being fully functional.

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A successful recovery and happy reunion

He eventually woke up 48 hours later. I was across the hall and a nurse came to get me. He still had a breathing tube in place and couldn’t talk but he was able to write. He wrote on a notepad, “I want my dad.”

As I entered the room, he motioned for a pen and wrote, “I LOVE YOU.” I couldn’t hold back the tears. I knew then that God had made him OK.

Soon after he could talk again, David asked if he was going to be able to play in his basketball game. He couldn’t remember a thing; he just woke up in a strange place with all these devices hooked up to him. He’d never been hospitalized before.

He was diagnosed as having (WPW) Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome with some signs ofhypertrophic cardiomyopathy. After being transferred to UCSF Children’s Medical Center, animplantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) was installed in David’s chest. He is now on medication for his condition and has since started back at school, but only partial days because he still gets really tired.

An ECG pre-screen could have made a difference

I was told by several doctors that a simple ECG could have alerted us to David’s condition sooner. The day before this whole incident he felt his heart racing, but thought nothing of it because it wasn’t painful.

Less than a week before David’s accident, another young man died of sudden cardiac arrest while playing in his high school game. Our children and athletes have to tell teachers and coaches about anything abnormal they feel happening with their bodies. It is important for parents to talk to their kids about physical awareness.

Our calling for more AEDs and ECG screenings

Since this happened, David and I have reached out to parents of sudden cardiac arrest victims in our area. I’m trying to promote awareness that this killer is out there and it’s attacking our children (and adults). We need more CPR training; we need AEDs in any place people congregate and in every police car. In a time of need, seconds count. We need to be prepared or it will cost lives.

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Back in the game

We need to train people to be able to determine the difference between a seizure and sudden cardiac arrest. When I recently talked to some parents of children who died from sudden cardiac arrest, they stated the first responders treated the event as a seizure and waited to perform CPR. In other similar instances, the children survived but suffered neurological damage.

One objection I routinely hear: The cost to do an ECG screen on a child. Let’s compare the cost to screen versus the cost of David’s physical and psychological suffering, AND the five different hospitals and critical care ambulance rides. Let’s do the math: One child is priceless. One life is priceless.

I could just sit here and do nothing – I still have my son. But what about those who lost their child? I don’t want another child or family to go through the same horror that changed my life forever. I had no fight in me on February 1, no cause.

But that all changed the day my son collapsed.

I’m fighting for better medical screening for our children, especially if they will be playing sports. Sports programs should monitor their coaches and mandate CPR and AED-trained personnel.  Time is so precious when someone collapses. Let’s save some lives. Who knows, one day it could be your own! God Bless.