USAV - USA Volleyball

02/05/2018 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/05/2018 13:51

Badger Region's Southport B18 Saves the Life of Teammate


By Brian Sharkey | Feb. 05, 2018, 2:42 p.m. (ET)

Southport B18-Blue, a club team in the Badger Region, saves the life of their teammate Tyler Gawlitta (center in gray jacket) with the use of CPR and AED device.

The below article is written by Brian Sharkey, the program director for the Badger Region. The article is reprinted with permission by the Badger Region.

In Wisconsin, the 2017-18 season marked the first year all paid high school coaches were required to be CPR/AED and First Aid certified.

I took my training along with a handful of other coaches and educators in the summer, just a few weeks before the start of boys' volleyball season.

Throughout the course, the lead trainer and the participants said, 'if you ever have to use this training.' Well that 'if' became a 'when' on Thursday, Nov. 30.

I coach a high-level boys 18s club team full of many athletes that will go on to play volleyball in college at the NCAA, NAIA or elite club level. All of these athletes are in better condition and have more volleyball knowledge than I ever had as a senior in high school.

So, needless to say, practice is intense, competitive and lot of fun.

The time was 9:30 p.m. and the Southport B18-Blue team was scrimmaging the Southport 17-Blue team at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. This was the last practice and opportunity the boys would have to work together before competing in their first tournament two days later.

Things were looking great for both teams, with improvement happening on both sides of the net. A few line-up adjustments were made with about 15 minutes to go in practice, and that is when near-tragedy struck.

Tyler Gawlitta, a senior right side hitter from Franklin High School, suddenly collapsed after switching spots with a teammate. He appeared to raise his hand to give Lucas Eggers, a senior from Kenosha Indian Trail High School, a high five, but fell onto him when his body went limp.

Eggers was able to absorb the majority of Gawlitta's weight and gently laid him on the ground, his eyes rolled in the back of his head and his body struggling for a breath.

Players on the bench made him comfortable with the help of towel behind his head and called over the coaching staff for assistance.

Coaches from the B18-Blue and B17-Blue responded immediately, calling 911, calling parents and alerting building supervisors immediately. Teammates cleared the area of backpacks, water bottles, warm-up pants and the other typical practice gear.

B17-Blue assistant coach Brad Barnes, who is a pre-medical student, high school coach and phlebotomist at a Kenosha hospital, took the lead analyzing the situation while B18-Blue assistant coach Ashley Hahn dialed 911. Hahn and Barnes, and the 911 operator got the CPR process started with the help of a few teammates, including Eggers, who remained nearby.

B17-Blue head coach Alec Birz escorted all the other athletes not helping with the incident to the lobby of the Boys & Girls Club, where he directed them to have every door open and all items out of the way for when emergency responders arrived.

In the meantime, I had pulled the medical paperwork for Gawlitta from my coaches binder, saw no previous conditions listed, and immediately called the first emergency contact number. Gawlitta's dad Scott picked up on the second ring.

I told Scott as much as I could about the incident and told him that our staff was giving CPR to his son, something no parent wants to hear, but he handled it with a cool and calm demeanor, which made relaying him information much easier as the scene unfolded.

Among the commotion, which felt like hours but was probably only a couple of minutes, Kim Ellingham, the parent of a middle hitter on the B17-Blue team had come into the gym to pick up her son at the conclusion of practice.

It was a god send.

Ellingham is a nurse who works with dozens of patients every day who have heart conditions. She took a glance at Tyler, and positioned herself over him while she looked for a pulse and breathing.

She encouraged Barnes to keep going with the chest compressions, keeping a beat by snapping her fingers to the beat of the song 'Stayin' Alive' from the BeeGees - something we had learned in CPR training prior to the high school season.

Tyler was beginning to turn blue around his lips and face. At that point, she knew the AED would be needed.

Within seconds of her request, the 18-year-old boys who went into the adjacent indoor soccer field to find the device had returned.

If there was one thing I remembered from my CPR/AED training, it was to turn on the AED as soon as it arrives at the scene of the trauma.

Why do I know that? Because in my training with the plastic dummies, I forgot. I did everything else correctly except for that.

Ellingham turned on the device, attached the pads to Tyler, and it said 'shock required.' Everyone stood clear and the machine administered a shock.

It felt like time stood still. The sight of an 18-year-old receiving an electrical shock now engrained in everyone's head. It was painful, but at the same time positive as he began to regain his color.

Less than two minutes later, EMTs arrived and got Tyler on a breathing machine and an IV was put in place.

First responders met with me and other coaches to take statements, but all I could think of was what I saw laying on the gurney over the officer's shoulder.

The ordeal felt like it dragged on for hours, but it was probably only a few minutes. Ellingham said it was 1 minute and 40 seconds from the time the AED was administered to the time EMTs walked through the gym door.

It was the most intense event I had ever knowingly been a part of.

Before the ambulance had left for the hospital, Coach Birz, who was still with the B17s and B18s in the lobby, mentioned that the EMTs said Tyler was sitting up and breathing on his own in the vehicle before it left the parking lot - a huge relief to us all.

Time then stood still.

Ten athletes, coaches and family gathered in a circle, everyone arm in arm. Tears now starting to swell in all of our eyes. Everyone holding the person next to him or her tight as if they were a close family member.

All of this in silence.

There were no words for what just went on.

As club director and B18-Blue head coach, I felt all eyes were on me. My nerves were struck just as much as the players and coaches. My mind was still racing. I even felt like I could pass out at any second since the adrenaline had just left my body when EMTs said Tyler was going to be OK.

We sat and talked about what this meant to us as players, as a team and as a family.

'Everyone did exactly what they needed to do, and did it amazingly,' Hahn said.

'If this was going to happen, it happened at the right place, at the right time, with the right people in place,' Ellingham added. 'It couldn't have happened at a better time if it's going to ever happen at all.'

After our heartfelt team huddle, the team and coaches went to the hospital where we met Tyler's dad Scott, who said Tyler was talking and was going to go in for more tests.

'That's incredible,' I thought to myself. 'He's talking.'

When everyone got home that night, nobody slept. Some coaches called in sick to work. Kids stayed home from school. I went in to the office late after not falling asleep until 5 a.m.

The next day, I got an email from Tyler's mom Heather.

Through tests, they now know Tyler suffers from an undiagnosed condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The condition is very common and can affect people of any age and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including athletes.

According to the American Heart Association, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs if heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricles to thicken. The ventricle size often remains normal, but the thickening may block blood flow out of the ventricle.

In a follow-up phone call, she said most people who have this condition don't know they have it because they don't survive their first cardiac incident.

Tyler received an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) and stayed in the hospital until Wednesday, Dec. 6, and on Jan. 21, the club and its staff received letters of commendation from the staff at Froedert South Hospital.

It's an amazing story for many people: The amazing response. A team coming together. The fragility of life.

But it's another story about the importance of learning CPR, First Aid and AED application. Without it, this story could surely have a different ending.

While Tyler will no longer be able to play competitive sports, he is a walking advertisement for first responder training.

On a personal note, thank you to all of the athletes, coaches, parents, emergency responders and others who jumped into action. It's an amazing story that none of us will ever forget.