The following article was shared by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
On a recent Saturday morning, Children’s Athletic Trainer Whitley Witherspoon walked into the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) High School Basketball tournament—having no idea that, just 30 minutes into the first game, she would save a child’s life.
Whitley spends most of her time caring for student-athletes at her assigned school, Riverwood International Charter School, but she occasionally picks up extra work covering youth athletic events, which is why she was at the AAU tournament that weekend.
As an athletic trainer for Children’s, Whitley helps educate student-athletes at Riverwood International Charter School on injury prevention and proper exercise techniques.
The tournament was held in two gyms, both located at Marietta Middle School. Whitley made sure the teams in both gyms had her cellphone number before settling in for the morning. Expecting it to be a quiet day, she had even brought her laptop to work on lesson planning and grading for the healthcare science class she teaches at Riverwood.
But then, her phone rang. A 16-year-old boy in the other gym was having a seizure.
Immediately, Whitley jumped into action, quickly thinking through the steps for helping someone experiencing a seizure. Realizing she might need some supplies, she ran and grabbed her emergency kit and automated external defibrillator (AED) before rushing to the court where she was needed.
When she arrived, the student had stopped seizing and a small crowd had gathered around him. One parent, who also happened to be an athletic trainer, was holding his head, while another, a nurse, worked on keeping the situation calm. After checking to make sure someone had called 911, Whitley began assessing the player.
She noted he was showing signs of agonal respiration, a distinct abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by gasping, so Whitley checked his pulse. It was extremely faint. Concerned he might be suffering from an abnormal heart rhythm, which could lead to sudden cardiac arrest, she opened up the AED.
An AED is a device that that sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. Many AEDs provide step-by-step voice instructions explaining how to check a patient’s breathing and pulse and how to position the electrode pads on their chest. Once the pads are in place, the device automatically measures the person’s heart rhythm and determines if a shock is needed. If it is, the machine tells the user to stand back and push a button to deliver a shock.
“This was the first time I used an AED in real life,” Whitley said. “I wasn’t positive the student would need a shock, but I knew from my training that the AED wouldn’t deliver one unless it was necessary. So, I went ahead and placed the electrode pads on his chest.”
It was a good thing that she did. Seconds after Whitley connected the student to the AED, the device confirmed his heartbeat was irregular and that he would need a shock. After telling everyone to stand back, Whitley delivered it.
After receiving the shock, the boy’s eyes opened, and he drew in a big breath. Meanwhile, Whitley immediately began CPR. She passed one of the parents a pocket mask from her kit so they could deliver rescue breaths while she began chest compressions. Together, they continued a repeating cycle of 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until the ambulance arrived less than five minutes later.
The student was taken to a nearby hospital and later transferred to Egleston. Thanks to Whitley’s quick response, he would make a full recovery.
Events like this one emphasize why it is vital to have a trained professional on sight and access to an AED at all sporting events—whether in schools or in the community.
“I was really, really lucky to have the AED,” Whitley said. “CPR alone is not as effective. It truly was vital in saving that student’s life.”
Whitley credits her preparedness and quick thinking during the incident to the late David Marshall, MD, who served as Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine with Children’s Physician Group Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Dr. Marshall sadly passed away earlier this year, but Whitley says he always stressed the importance of providing AEDs and pediatric-specific sports medicine training to our Children’s athletic trainers.
“Dr. Marshall was a great advocate for our athletic trainers,” Whitley said. “Thanks to him, we are trained on how to respond specifically to the needs of kids.”
Ironically, the Monday before the AAU tournament, Whitley began teaching a CPR unit in her Riverwood health class. When her students asked if she ever had to use her training in real life, she shared that the first time she had performed CPR on someone was during a family gathering. She also stressed the importance of brushing up on CPR skills regularly and becoming as comfortable as possible with recognizing an emergency.
“Reviewing your skills and keeping up with CPR recertification is so important—especially for healthcare providers,” Whitley said. “You never know when you might use them to save someone’s life.”
Children’s certifies more than 7,000 employees in CPR every two years through the American Heart Association and offers a variety of CPR classes. Visit the Life Support Courses page to review the types of CPR classes and upcoming course schedules.
We are incredibly proud and humbled at the actions Witherspoon took that day.
Witherspoon and our additional Riverwood Athletic Trainer, Ashley Conorqui, are contracted to cover all contact athletic events at Riverwood. They also travel with Raider Football to their away games in the fall.
According to Witherspoon, Riverwood has seven AEDS on our campus. Three are located in the building (one on each floor), and four are housed with Riverwood Athletics (one alternates between baseball and softball depending on the season; one in the Hoskyn Stadium press box; one was previously mounted at the practice field but is temporarily being stored in the athletic training room during construction; and the last travels with the athletic trainer providing coverage at each game on campus.)
In addition, Witherspoon is a certified CPR instructor through the American Heart Association and currently hosts courses for staff and coaches to get certified twice per year. Also, all Healthcare Science Pathway students can become certified through the American Heart Association with either Heartsaver Certification (Introductory Classes) or Basic Life Support (Advanced third-year classes) should they pass the written test as well as a skills assessment.
According to CHOA, Riverwood International Charter School and Marietta Middle School are both Project S.A.V.E Heart Safe Schools, meaning officials have a plan in place and are prepared for a sudden cardiac emergency. Since the program’s inception in 2004, Project S.A.V.E has brought AED and CPR training to every county in Georgia, recognized more than 1,450 Heart Safe Schools throughout Georgia, and saved countless people’s lives.
To read more about Riverwood’s Athletic Trainers, Whitley Witherspoon and Ashley Conorqui, please see their bio page here: https://riverwoodathletics.com/athletic-trainers/.
To find a CPR Class, AED Class, and more, visit the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class.