AED comes to aid of Chicago university basketball player
Athlete had no family history of heart disease, collapsed during practice
By Janice Youngwith
The Chicago Daily Herald
CHICAGO — Like most college athletes, 21-year-old Liz Pearlman, an Aurora University junior and women's basketball center, worrying about cardiac arrest is something that never crossed her radar.
"There's no family history of heart disease," says the six-foot Chicago native who had just completed her first day of practice on Oct. 15 when the unthinkable happened.
"I remember running sideline sprints during the last 15 minutes of practice and feeling extremely tired," Pearlman recalls. "I didn't feel ill, just extremely tired and I sat down. That’s all I remember."
Head athletic trainer Terry Smith walked over to see what was wrong. "Initially I thought she may have a cramp," Smith says. "It was a two-hour practice and she looked great. There were no signs of a pending heart problem."
It took Smith about 10 seconds to walk across the court to reach Pearlman’s side.
"From that point on everything moved very quickly," Smith says. "Liz began hyperventilating, was having trouble breathing and it spiraled out of control. I began CPR as her heart stopped."
Smith yelled for an assistant coach to call 911 and for Coach Michelle Roof to grab the automated external defibrillator (AED) hanging on the wall in the hallway just outside the Thornton Gymnasium. Roof, who has served as head basketball coach for five years and led the team to a 61-45 overall record, sprinted back with the device and took over compressions as Smith opened the AED and placed the pads.
An AED is a computerized medical device that can check a person’s heart rhythm, recognize a rhythm that requires a shock and advise rescuers when a shock is needed.
The AED delivered two shocks before Pearlman’s heart resumed beating.
"We cleared the gym, paramedics arrived and Liz was taken to an ambulance, which remained in our parking lot for nearly 20 minutes as paramedics worked to stabilize her for transport to Provena Mercy Medical Center," Roof says. "I’ve never seen anything like this before and initially my mind was in a tailspin. However, CPR training kicked in and I’m so thankful we were prepared to react."
Smith, who has been teaching CPR for 20 years and AED training for 10 years, says reacting in the moment can be different from in the classroom.
"In real time, things happen quickly, but in emotional time it seems to take longer," says Smith, who last year put his CPR training to use at a baseball game when a spectator collapsed.
"While I’ve been trained to use an AED, I’ve never had to actually use it," says Smith, who calls it one of the greatest inventions ever. "As I tell my classes, you learn it and it seems monotonous, but there’s a reason for it."
With five AEDs strategically placed on the small 4,300-student campus and all coaches certified in both CPR and AED usage according to NCAA guidelines, Smith says training is the key.
Campus security officers, school nurses, student athletic trainers and hundreds of education and nursing majors all complete required first aid, CPR and AED training, says Smith, who adds that Pearlman was in the "right place at the right time."
Returning to the court for a special celebration of life just 10 days later, Pearlman calls Smith and Roof’s response "a gift from God, a blessing and a miracle."
While sidelined this season, Pearlman is wearing a special defibrillator vest and awaiting medical tests to help determine treatment for the nature of blood clots in her lungs that weren’t diagnosed until two days later in the hospital.
"It’s truly a second chance at life," says Pearlman, who says she plans to get the word out on the importance of defibrillators and having people trained to recognize a cardiac emergency and to use them.
According to the American Heart Association, the national cardiac arrest survival rate is a dismal five percent and many Americans simply aren’t prepared to perform CPR or respond to another emergency.
Each year more than 335,000 people across the country die from coronary heart disease before reaching a hospital or an emergency room. Most of those deaths result from sudden cardiac arrest. When the arrest occurs outside the hospital setting, most victims die because CPR and defibrillation were not provided soon enough.
According to the American Heart Association, which since 1963 has annually trained 11 million potential responders, the vast majority of people in the United States do not know CPR. In most cases, they say, when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, a victim’s heart quivers in uncontrolled rhythm and causes the person to collapse, become unresponsive or experience gentle shaking and stop breathing normally. Death typically follows within minutes, with some 1,000 American deaths each day attributed to sudden cardiac arrest.