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November 18, 2009
Fla. paramedics save collapsed teen athlete
By Richard Danielson
TAMPA, Fla. — In three minutes Saturday, Drake Williams went through a whole lifetime's worth of luck — both good and bad.
The bad: having a rare heart condition that causes "sudden cardiac death."
The good: After he collapsed at basketball practice, everyone around him knew what to do, and two Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics happened to be right outside.
"A miracle," said Dr. James Orlowski, chief of pediatrics at University Community Hospital. "He's a very, very fortunate young man because everything came together like you would hope it would."
Drake, 16, was doing offense-to-defense transition drills with the rest of the Wharton High basketball team Saturday when he pitched forward near mid court.
Drake tried to get up once, then collapsed in a heap.
By the time Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli got to the junior forward's side, Drake's eyes had rolled back and he wasn't breathing.
Tonelli said he started chest compressions, tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and switched back to chest compressions. It wasn't working, so he asked junior Jonathan Torres to take over the CPR while he went to get the gym's automatic external defibrillator.
Meanwhile, a teammate used Tonelli's cell phone to call 911 and to try to call Drake's parents, Darrell and Monzita Williams of New Tampa. Others dashed out of the gym in search of another coach.
In the parking lot, they found Tampa Fire Rescue paramedic Ryan Bradford and firefighter-paramedic Angelo Santos Martinez. They had just come to Wharton High to pick up fire Capt. Rick Chesser, who had dropped off an equipment truck for Badge Bowl VIII, a charity flag football game that would pit Tampa firefighters against police later that day.
Five seconds later and they would have already pulled away, adding minutes to the time it took rescuers to reach Drake.
Instead, they walked in as Tonelli prepared to use the automatic defibrillator. Drake was pale, had no pulse and wasn't breathing. His limbs were limp, and his pupils didn't react.
Within a minute, however, the paramedics had shocked Drake's heart back to life. On the way to the hospital, he talked to rescuers.
"He wanted to get back up and go play basketball," firefighter-emergency medical technician Frank Coto Jr. said.
By Tuesday, Drake welcomed the rescuers who saved his life during a visit in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit.
"I'm so happy to see that smiling face," driver-engineer Mark Wengyn told Drake.
"I'm glad to be back," Drake said. "Thank you for all that you did."
Orlowski said Drake has an electrical disturbance in his heart that, when stress hormones get too high, triggers the heart to stop pumping blood and start quivering like "a bag of worms."
Doctors plan to implant an internal defibrillator in Drake so that his heart can be jolted back into a regular rhythm if he ever collapses again. His career in contact sports is over, which means that he won't be returning to the football field, where he played tight end and defensive end for Wharton.
Playing basketball "can be" a possibility, Orlowski said, though he didn't say for sure one way or the other.
Orlowski said the timing of Drake's rescue was critical. Waiting minutes for help could have caused him to suffer brain damage or worse.
"If it wasn't for the fact that the coaches started CPR and then EMS was right around the corner," he said, "he would have been one of the bad statistics instead of one of the good ones."
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