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Saves that matter: High school players learn emergency skills

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 27. 2014 8:19PM
Manchester Central High School student athletes Aidan Ryan, right, and Liam O'Connell, practice CPR during an Athletes Saving Athletes presentation Thursday morning at Derryfield Country Club in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- High school athletes spend hours practicing who to guard, pass to or block. But how many of them know where to find the nearest automated external defibrillator?

Athletes from Central High School learned Thursday how just a little basic knowledge and preparation can prevent a tragedy.

"We want them to be able to recognize when there's an issue and to get help. Find the trainer. Find the coach. Call 911. What's done in the first three to five minutes can be the difference between life and death," said Beth Mallon, founder of Advocates for Injured Athletes.

The San Diego-based nonprofit launched its Athletes Saving Athletes program about two years ago, teaching athletes in Southern California how to recognize the signs and symptoms of life-threatening conditions and injuries, then act quickly.

Mallon brought ASA's program to the Derryfield Country Club on Thursday for about 50 Central athletes, who learned about various injuries and conditions. They received training in CPR and use of a defibrillator.

The electronic device was used to restart the heart of a 15-year-old basketball player who went into cardiac arrest during a game at Hopkinton High School in January.

Mallon said the idea behind ASA is that athletes can be tremendous first responders while waiting for an athletic trainer or EMT to reach the scene.

One of the most important safety tips - do not move someone with a potential head or neck injury - was what led Mallon to form ASA.

She said her son, Tommy, fractured his neck during a high school lacrosse game in 2009. A teammate saved her son's life by not pulling him to his feet after a collision with another player, she said.

"Even though he was asking for help to get up, his teammate encouraged him to stay down until the athletic trainer arrived," Mallon recalled. "He's very lucky to be alive. If his teammate had reached down to pull him up, the fracture would have severed his spinal cord and he would have died right there."

That got Mallon thinking about how many high school athletes know how to respond to such a serious injury.

Tommy Mallon, who went through a long rehabilitation and can walk, recently graduated from the University of San Diego and joined his mother as a co-founder of ASA.

The curriculum brought back frightening memories for some of the Central students.

Colleen O'Hara, a junior who plays catcher on the Central softball team, recalled being overcome by heat when her bulky protective equipment absorbed the heat of the sun's rays during a practice. Fortunately, Central trainer Dave Moreton was there and led O'Hara into the shade and cooled her down with some wet cloths.

O'Hara and her schoolmates were tested before the program, then after to compare what they knew before and what they learned.

"I didn't know that as athletes we could do something if there was a serious injury," O'Hara said.

ASA has primarily been offered in the San Diego area, but Mallon hopes to expand to other areas.

She chose Manchester after striking up a friendship at a convention with Laura Decoster, executive director of the New Hampshire Musculoskeletal Institute/Safe Sports Networks.

Decoster said ideally, schools would have a certified athletic trainer at every event and practice. In this era of tight budgets, that's not close to practical.

Decoster said through ASA, players can know what to look for and be prepared to handle a number of scenarios.

"It doesn't have to be luck," she said.

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