Evan Piekara, Queens, NY – 24 at time of event (2008)
Teach for America* nearly lost one of their stars. Just one month after his 24th birthday, Evan collapsed on the St John’s University basketball court. He’d had a trying month, 20 days straight without a break, and this was his first day off. It became a longer time-out than planned.
That July afternoon he fell to the ground after a particularly satisfying basket. Everyone stopped and stared. Someone thought to call security. Steve Ptacek arrived in minutes and brought an AED with him. He started CPR since Evan had no pulse, and wasn’t breathing, just making a strange gasping sound. The AED could not restore a rhythm. Evan was dying. Fit, healthy and energetic, this young man was slipping away and yet everything possible was being done to save him.
When the EMTs arrived they bundled him into the ambulance to work on stabilizing him before they did anything else. Dozens of minutes went by, but the ambulance remained stationary. Finally, it moved off to the hospital just three miles away. No one thought Evan had a chance. He’d been “down” too long. Some thought he hadn’t had a pulse for half an hour or more. Others knew the AED hadn’t worked. And everyone saw how washed out his skin looked, deathly pale.
Evan’s parents soon arrived from Massachusetts to find Evan in the ICU, comatose with a tube down his throat helping him breathe. They also noticed his roommate had managed to gain access as well! Before the night was out Evan stirred and indicated he was conscious and cognitively functional. The relief was palpable, although the trauma of potential brain damage was still fresh in their minds. They’d been told he had a 2% chance of surviving, and now they needed to find out what happened to him, why, and what to do about it.
The diagnosis of HCM** was a big surprise, although the rest of the family has been tested and found clear. Years ago, in high school, Evan had been diagnosed with arrhythmia, although the echocardiogram had not revealed any abnormal heart condition, and he continued on to be a three varsity athlete. There had been no indications or warnings at all in the years afterward.
Within a week of his arrest, Evan had an ICD implanted in his chest to protect him from any further episodes. He doesn’t take any medications or require changes to diet. In fact, he is just as before, and went back to work within two weeks!
In the past year Evan has asked himself Why? many times, often every day. Why did it happen? Why did he survive? What does it all mean? These questions have no ready answers, although he has a different perspective on life now.
“I have a sense of purpose, people relying on me, and I’ve [always had] a desire to challenge myself in every way,” Evan explained.
“It keeps coming back. I’m constantly reminded of it,” Evan said of his arrest 12 months ago. “I wake up in the morning and I’ve got a defibrillator in my chest, with the scar to remind me. It’s the little things, like I can’t go through a metal detector at the airport,” he added.
As a young man Evan is still testing his physical limits. He understands the benefits of an ICD, despite no longer being able to participate in highly competitive sports.
“I’m much safer now!” Evan exclaimed.
* TFA is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort." New York is home to Teach For America’s largest corps, with 1,000 corps members teaching in over 300 schools in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Corp members commit to teach for at least two years in urban and rural public schools, going above and beyond traditional expectations to lead their students to significant academic achievement.
** Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is an abnormality in the heart muscle that can be of genetic origin, or due to viral infection, amongst other causes.
Editors Note: Survivors generally do not "witness" their save, so inaccuracies in their recollections are understandably possible. We received an update from one of Evan's saviors, who said:
1) I responded in "minutes" when it was actually less than one minute.
2) I responded with the AED. The AED was actually brought by Sgt. John Amodeo approximately two minutes after Evan had collapsed and during that two minutes, I was performing CPR.
3) The AED did give a "shock advised" prompt (as he was in cardiac arrest) after which I delivered the shock and Evan's rhythm was virtually immediately restored.I wanted to clear up the inaccuracies of the article so that no one gets the wrong impression that the AED did not do what it was supposed to do. The AED saved this young man's life and I witnessed it. I was merely the person that was trained on how to use the machine.
Public Safety Officer
St. John's University