There were several miracle workers involved with saving the life of 15-year-old Ryan Monahan at Monticello High School on Nov. 21. The coaches, and all of the people involved, were at the top of the list. To say that everyone involved handled things perfectly is to, somehow, still understate it. The actions of Jason Schmidt, Jason Telecky, Bruce Balder-Lanoue, and many others mentioned in “Hero Ball” were simply heroic. They saved a life. But to a man, each of them that I spoke to wanted to give credit to two other places - the AED and the Minnesota State High School League.
One without the other may not have been much use at all, but together they had prepared Monticello’s coaches and staff to perfectly handle a life-or-death situation.
The MSHSL requires all coaches to undergo certain training each year, and that includes AED training. Some Monti coaches, including Bruce Balder-Lanoue, had finished the training as recently as the prior weekend, and said it was instrumental in helping them properly handle the situation. Much to the chagrin of all of those involved with that fateful day at MHS, not all states require such training.
John Monahan, Ryan’s father, said he has a relative that coaches in Colorado who has never been trained on how or when to use the machine.
“We’re lucky, in Minnesota,” said Monahan.
MHS Athletic Director Gary Revenig was one of many others to give a ton of credit to the MSHSL for starting the domino effect that led to Nov. 21 being a happy story, instead of a tragic one.
“I think it all starts at the top, and it starts with the Minnesota State High School League,” he said. “If the high school league is not doing their thing, the outcome might have been different.”
Head basketball coach Jason Schmidt, who helped orchestrate the life-saving efforts on Nov. 21, admitted that in the past he has viewed the training as something that just has to be done. That is no longer the case.
“You do it because to you have to, but now, I look at it like I’m going to do it because I need to,” said Schmidt, who added that he felt “so fortunate” to have had the training.
Balder-Lanoue, who along with Telecky was one of two people to attach the AED to Monahan, relied heavily on his recent training.
“You have the training, and you hope you never have to use it,” he said. “But you feel somewhat calm when the situation happens.”
The biggest miracle worker on the 21st, the one thing that made any of this possible, was the AED. A portable electronic device, it is designed to automatically diagnose cardiac arrhythmias and other heart stoppages and then treat them through defibrillation. First invented in the mid-1960s, AEDs have become more prevalent in recent decades, and can now be found at every public school in Monticello, and at most, if not all public schools, around the state. They are renowned for their simplicity, walking the user through each step, and explaining what needs to be done.
“The person who invented this is an absolute genius,” said Telecky.
That inventor was Frank Pantridge, a physician and cardiologist from Northern Ireland, who passed away in December of 2004.
Balder-Lanoue guessed that even Pantridge may not have been able to be fully aware of how many lives he would be saving. A story from BBC News last year estimated that his invention has saved more than a million lives during the past half-century.
“The machine is incredible,” he said. “It walks you through literally everything.”
As great as the machine is, it does still need people to use it. And that’s why the single biggest thing that the Monahans, Telecky, Balder-Lanoue, Revenig, and Schmidt want people to take away from this is awareness. Awareness of what cardiac arrest may look like (it can look at first like a fainting episode, or even like a seizure as the person gasps for air), awareness of where AEDs can be found in every building, especially those that host athletic events, and awareness that the best move is whenever a situation arises where a person has collapsed and is unconscious, hook up the AED and let it do the work.
AEDs are designed so that the first thing they will do is read the patient’s vitals and determine whether or not they need a shock. It is incredibly unlikely that it will shock a person that doesn’t need it.
“If someone collapses and it looks like they’re in trouble the safest thing to do is to run and grab it and hook it up to them,” said John Monahan, who admitted to knowing very little about the purpose for AEDs prior to Nov. 21. He has now loaded up on research, and found that sudden cardiac arrest affects up to 6,000 people under 30 each year. Research shows that having an AED available can at least triple the persons chances of surviving.
Telecky noted that he too wasn’t positive as to when you should use the AED. He is now.
“If you’re ever in doubt, put the AED on,” he said. “Don’t hesitate, just put it on and do what it tells you to do.”
Monticello coaches did exactly that on Nov. 21. Thanks to their quick action, to their prior training, and to the brilliance of Pantridge, a teenage life was saved.
Now, the Monahans are making it their mission to make as many people aware of both cardiac arrests in young people and the value of AEDs as they can. They understand, as crystal clear as one can understand anything, the value of AEDs and of having people in place who know how to use them.
“If we can just save one more life,” said John Monahan. “It would all be worth it.”