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Off-duty officer, respiratory therapist save teen basketball player during tournament using CPR

Lt. Eric Stucki

SALT LAKE CITY, Ut. — If you were at one of your kids’ sporting events and somebody had a medical problem and struggled to breathe, would you know what to do?

That’s exactly what happened at a busy youth basketball tournament at East High School on Saturday, May 5. Several people knew exactly what to do, and they’re encouraging the rest of us to learn those life-saving skills, too.

“Get a little bit of training,” said Lt. Eric Stucki, an enforcement officer with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, who was watching his kids play when he stepped in to help with a couple of other strangers. “Luckily, those years of experience of training and fieldwork kicked in for me. It will kick in for them too.”

Thousands of kids played in AAU basketball games on the Wasatch Front over the weekend. No one expects medical issues with happy, healthy kids, but emergencies can happen at any time. A boy had a medical issue on the bench and collapsed on the floor of the gym.

“A parent came in and asked for a medical responder,” said Andrea Johnson, a respiratory therapist at Primary Children’s Hospital, who was also in the crowd watching her kids play.

“There was quite a medical incident going on in one of the other gyms,” Stucki said.

He hurried over.

“The faster you act, the better,” said Stucki. “It’s always a chaotic scene. Everybody’s in a panic.”

Step 1: Somebody else had already called 911. Stucki assessed the boy’s condition.

“The young man was struggling to breathe and was really struggling on the floor,” he said.

Stucki’s year’s of training as a first responder kicked in.

“(I) begin CPR on the young man to try to maintain his vitals, at least, until advanced medical could get there,” he said.

He’s used his first aid skills numerous times before to save lives on the job, but never off-duty, until Saturday night.

“I saw Eric doing CPR,” said Johnson. “So, I went in and did what I naturally do which is airway. So, opening the airway and giving rescue breaths.”

Many of us have taken CPR classes, but a regular refresher course could be critical for confidence. Stucki and Johnson regularly use these skills.

“It’s like second nature to me, right now,” said Johnson. “The most important thing is chest compressions: hard, deep, fast and at a high rate. Then, activating EMS so we can get the defibrillator there, and actually shock the patient back into rhythm.”

The American Heart Association now advises us to perform CPR without the rescue breaths, unless there is a professional around. Johnson agrees.

You can find that training online at cpr.heart.org.

The key lesson, after calling 911: Push hard and fast in the center of the chest until help arrives. It’s important to push giving 100 to 120 compressions per minute which is about the same tempo as the song ‘Stayin’ Alive.’

“Get trained, so that when you’re in that situation of fight or flight, that your body reacts and does what it has been naturally trained to do,” said Johnson.

A tournament official said the boy was recovering well in the hospital.