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Shock To The Heart

09/01/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: The Steven Champ Story [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

The Steven Champ Story 

By Suzanne Ferrara  |  Photos by Fusion Photography

“I don’t remember anything from that day; they said I went down after a couple of sprints.”

16-year-old Steven Champ, a soccer player for Catholic High of New Iberia, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while at summer training last year.  “When I woke up, I didn’t know what happened,” recalls Champ.

While he may not remember that entire day, one thing Champ knows for certain—that brush with death gave him a sobering realization of life’s fragility.  It’s a feeling that will stay with him forever.  “It changed my life. And, yes, it was scary!  I look at life now knowing that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and you have to live each day like it is your last because you never know.”  

Champ is breathing today thanks to CHS’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which was hooked up to Champ by licensed athletic trainer, Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Thomason, who revived him with the AED shock treatment.  But it was the minutes before the defibrillator arrived that Panthers assistant soccer coach Mike Pope worked to keep him alive.  

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that day. We were about 15 minutes into our session doing short sprints to elevate the heart rate”

It was at that moment head soccer coach Adam Glover hollered at Pope because Champ had collapsed to the ground, “I ran to him and began checking his vitals, and there were no vital signs; and as soon as I saw that he was unresponsive, I told Coach Adam to call ‘Biz’ for the defibrillator, and he called 9-1-1 as well.”

Pope was trying to get Champ’s vitals back while administering CPR, but he was still unresponsive.  “I just stayed with the CPR until the defibrillator showed up.  I was totally focused on going through the steps properly, and all I can think is keep the blood moving and keep oxygen going to the brain.”

Kneeling alongside him was Champ’s father who was praying and trying to get his son to communicate with him.  “It all felt surreal. I can’t imagine being in Mr. Champ’s shoes,” says Pope.

When Thomason sprinted across campus with the AED, she saw Pope performing CPR, and she says she realized “…it was the worst-case scenario.  His dad was hovering over him and praying. I started setting it (the AED) up; I got the pads on Steven, he was unconscious, he was blue and he was obviously not breathing and in cardiac arrest.”

Thomason then took over chest compression as Pope continued doing rescue breathing, and at the same time the AED was checking the heart rhythm status.   “It read that he did not have a heart rhythm, and it alerted us that shock was advised.   We delivered the shock and saw the life come back into him, and then we resumed care until the ambulance arrived.”  Thomason continues, “I have never been prouder of a coach before. Without them, before the AED arrived, I don’t know if Steven would be here today.”

What triggered Champ’s sudden cardiac arrest in the first place?  The AED detected Champ was in ventricular fibrillation, the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance one can have. “It is not like a heart attack; it was an electrical disorder, something we would not have known if it weren’t for the defibrillator.  You really don’t know what you are looking at,” adds Thomason.

To say the Champs believe the AED and the people who helped keep Champ alive were a Godsend is an understatement.  “No doubt, no doubt that this was a blessing,” says Steven Champ, Sr. His wife, Laura, concurs, “I am grateful very, very grateful; and the fact that there was someone there who knew how to use the device on my son, I am so grateful.”

Perhaps another miracle is the fact that the AED devise was just placed on the CHS campus only three weeks before Champ’s cardiac arrest.  “It was donated to the school weeks before this happened, and it was a blessing that it was there for him,” says Mrs. Champ.

 Josh Guilbeau, Catholic High School’s head coach of boys basketball and director of guidance and counseling, says having the devices has been long awaited, and has brought much needed relief.  “I have had a couple of incidents in the gym where players passed out from heat or something.  It was always a concern to get these AEDs and learn how to use them so we can be prepared for a situation like this, and the incident with Steven brought it all home.” Guilbeau says since the Champ scare, staff members have been trained and retrained at CHS.  “’Biz’ trained us effectively to the point where we feel very comfortable until paramedics would arrive.” 

Jan. 1, 2018 is when all Louisiana high schools are required to have an AED on school grounds. But, there’s a loophole: the only obstacle that could stop schools from following the new law is if funding is not available.  New regulations also call for school coaches, including staff members, be trained in CPR and proper usage of AEDs.

Over the past two years, at least half a dozen Acadiana high schools have acquired AEDs, including those that have been struck with tragedy.  Champ’s mother says her son’s incident last summer has opened a lot of eyes. 

“Other schools around the area realize the importance of it.”  Since his near-death experience, Champ himself has been a living witness to how crucial the life-saving device can be to everyone.  “He has been an amazing advocate, and the way he’s handled all this, well, I look at him as true hero. I believe God is going to use him as a testimony.”   Pope says Champ didn’t waste time to spread the word of his incident, to tell how critical it is to have a protocol and a maintained AED.  “He’s pretty amazing and he’s trying to hinder this from happening to other student athletes.”

Thomason, also an AED advocate, says the law should include elementary schools.  “Cardiac arrests know no age limit.”  Steven Champ’s near-death experience sparked at least one New Iberia elementary school to quickly purchase an AED.  “When it happened at Catholic High, I said, ‘This is no longer a wish, this is a need,’” says Karen Bonin, St. Edward School Principal.  

Thanks to funding from its Parent Teacher Organization, St. Edward was able to purchase two devices immediately instead of waiting for a grant to pay for them.  “One is sufficient for our facility, but our children play on the playground, which is a little further away, and we want one close to them and close to the church as well.”  

But not every school has funding immediately accessible, and finding the means to pay for the AEDs has been an ongoing issue.  The cheapest model averages $1,100, and can cost up to a $2,500 for a device that has bilingual interpretation and gives the operator real time, detailed feedback on the CPR they are giving.  “When it is all said in done, though, and you get the pads on them, it’s still going to do what it needs to do, and it walks you through it,” adds Thomason.   

There’s no price on saving a life, and Thomason says, “Whatever you can do to get those funds; get them donated or find an organization willing to help.” Administrators at Cathedral-Carmel in Lafayette are advising schools that don’t have funds to do what they did: apply for a grant to pay for the life-saving device.  “Whatever you can do to get those funds; get them donated or find an organization willing to help,” says Thomason.  Pope agrees, “You can never put a price on this device, and we thank God every day for Steven and for having that defibrillator.”

Cathedral Carmel received two AEDs as far back as eight years ago, thanks to a grant from Lourdes Hospital.  “We recognized the defibrillator’s medical significance; many of our administrators, including myself, have medical backgrounds, and we knew its life-saving value,” recalls Nannette Cook, a Cathedral P.E. teacher.  “Because both machines have the potential to save a life and are readily available for us, it definitely makes us feel more comfortable.”

Cathedral’s head football coach and athletic director, Thad Godeaux, says while he’s relieved the machines are accessible on the field, the AEDs are crucial for non-athletic emergencies like school events including Grandparents Day.  “We have one in the gym and one in the nurse’s office, strategically positioned, and we are constantly being retrained on it, and the devices have maintenance checks twice a year.”  

Thomason wants more schools to jump on board and to seek grants or donations if necessary. Thomason is assigned to schools to make sure kids are athletically safe on campus and to respond to medical emergencies.  She was certainly called to the ultimate task the day she was working at CHS, and is forever grateful she was there.  “When I saw him (Champ) alive and responsive with his family at the hospital was the best feeling I ever had.  Everyone was hugging each other because we knew how close we were to not having Steven anymore.”

The biggest scare though is the plethora of undiagnosed heart conditions waiting to rear their ugly heads.  Just like Champ, hundreds of thousands of people walk around with cardiac abnormalities that they don’t know exist, until the unexpected strikes.  The Champs had no idea their son had any precondition because it never surfaced in his general heart exam and physical.  It took one of the biggest scares in Champ’s young life to figure it out. “We believe that he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but that hasn’t been officially diagnosed,” says Mrs. Champ.  “It could be an isolated incident where his heart went into abnormal mode, but he now has an implanted ICD, an Internal Cardio Defibrillator.”  

Cardiologist and Electro Physiologist Dr. Patrick Welch says some of the inherited conditions are easy to diagnose while others need an echocardiogram (echo ultra sound) to detect its existence.  Athletes in America are only required to get a standard EKG and physical exam, but not a full echo ultrasound.  “We don’t do a full echo sound here in the states like some countries.”

Welch knows first-hand the device has saved lives, including some of his own patients. “I just put an implantable defibrillator in a patient who was resuscitated with an AED.  When you look at the statistics on AEDs, they improve survival from cardiac arrest two to three times over what someone would have by just standard CPR.  While knowing CPR is important, having access to an AED can be even more important.” 16-year-old Champ can’t agree more. “Know your body and know your limitations, and be aware of how you are feeling.  If you are tired, take a break because I would always push through.”

Champ’s father adamantly believes every sports physical should include an echocardiogram.  “An echocardiogram should be required, but it’s not, and it’s all due to cost!  Whether your kids are playing sports or not, make sure they get echocardiograms, EKGs and the whole nine yards, because it can happen to anybody.  You don’t have to be an athlete.”

As for the team at CHS that kept his son alive, Mr. Champ says, “They will forever be part of our lives and they are now part of our family for what they did.”    No one feels this more than Champ himself who can never take life for granted.  “I will never ever be able to show them how much I appreciate them; they are forever close to my heart.”

In Print Steven Champ Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Thomason
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