Quick-Thinking Coach, AED, Save High School Basketball Player

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.--Excited to be on Central High School's basketball team, freshman Hunter Helton was looking forward to another conditioning practice Monday after school.

But during the practice, Hunter, 14, suffered sudden cardiac arrest and woke up hours later at East Tennessee Children's Hospital (ETCH).

"I didn't know anything," he said.

Hunter has his basketball coach, Jon Higgins, a former University of Tennessee basketball player, to thank for waking up at all, Hunter said. When his heart stopped, Higgins performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator to revive Hunter.

"He flatlined three times," said Hunter's father, Ronnie, choking back tears. Hunter's parents, who were called after he was revived and who met him at the hospital, said he had no history of heart problems. Hunter has played football and baseball for years, said his father, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Knoxville native and major-league baseball player Todd Helton, a former Central and University of Tennessee star, who plays for the Colorado Rockies.

"He's had poison ivy and braces — that's all," Ronnie Helton said. "He's always been a healthy, normal kid."

ETCH said 600 to 1,000 of the 350,000 sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. each year occur in children or adolescents, which averages out to 10-15 student deaths in Tennessee each year. A shock administered 3 to 5 minutes after the heart stops pumping could save the person's life.

ETCH is participating in Project ADAM (Automated Defibrillators in Adam's Memory), a nonprofit program that seeks to place AEDs and provide training to staff in elementary, middle and high schools, said Marianne Jennings, Project Adam Tennessee Coordinator. Founded in 1999 in Wisconsin, the nonprofit was named after 17-year-old athlete Adam Lemel after his death from sudden cardiac arrest. Last year, its first at ETCH, it placed AEDs in five middle schools, Jennings said. She said "almost all" of Knoxville high schools and middle schools now have AEDs and staff who have been trained.

(Project ADAM did not purchase Central's AED, used by Higgins.)

"The heart doctor told us if it hadn't been for the coach and the AED, he wouldn't have made it," said Ronnie Helton.

Hunter was to be transferred to Vanderbilt University Hospital today for further tests, his parents said. On Tuesday afternoon, he was in good spirits, cutting up with visiting friends and family.

"I just want to thank my coaches," he said. "They saved my life."

SOURCE: Knoxville News Sentinel

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