‘Chain of survival’ saves Ariz. student

Karen Sayers, right, thanks Buena High School softball Coach Mark Schaefer in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Sayers thanked multiple people for saving her daughter’s life earlier in the year when the girl had a seizure. Schaefer was one of the first people to give her CPR, which saved her life as well as reduced possible brain damage from lack of oxygen. Enlarge photo

Sierra Vista Herald, Justin Levesque/Associated Press

Karen Sayers, right, thanks Buena High School softball Coach Mark Schaefer in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Sayers thanked multiple people for saving her daughter’s life earlier in the year when the girl had a seizure. Schaefer was one of the first people to give her CPR, which saved her life as well as reduced possible brain damage from lack of oxygen.

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) – Four weeks ago, Karen Sayers received a phone call that, in her words, “changed a lot of things.”

If not for the response of local EMS personnel and the quick and knowledgeable actions of two of Buena High School’s athletics staff members, the events leading to that phone call could have ended very differently.

The afternoon of Nov. 5 started like any other Monday for Sayers’ daughter, Savannah Sayers, which meant she was out in the sports fields with her softball teammates.

“We were running around the track for conditioning,” the sophomore said.

What happened next is fuzzy for Savannah, but crystal clear for those around her.

“I was told I just kind of collapsed on the ground,” she said.

Not far away, in the dugout, was Buena softball coach Mark Schaefer.

“I heard a little bit of a commotion, so I came out to see what’s going on. I saw one of the girls running down, saying that Savannah had a seizure,” Schaefer said.

After more than two decades of coaching student sports, Schaefer said he had seen myriad injuries and conditions. That knowledge helped guide his actions that afternoon, when he directed Savannah’s teammates to get his cellphone and call 911 while he made his way to the track.

At that point, she was still breathing.

“I sent the other kids after Woody and the nurse,” he said.

Wesley Wood, or ‘Woody’ as she is known by students and staff members, has been the certified athletic trainer for Buena High School for the last four years.

An eventful week may see her dealing with ACL tears, ankle sprains or concussions, but this day would prove to be different.

“In 13 years of doing this I’ve never had this happen,” she said last week, when she and Schaefer were recognized by Savannah’s family and local first responders for their quick thinking that doctors said saved her life.

“I was up in the building, and two of the players came to get me. They said, ‘We need you out at the softball field,’ that someone had fainted or fallen down,” Wood said.

When she arrived to find Schaefer and an unresponsive Savannah, she could already hear sirens in the distance, she said.

“911 had already been called, so I knew they were coming. I heard them, as a matter of fact, as I was performing CPR,” she said.

“When Woody got there, Savannah had already stopped breathing from what I can tell,” Schaefer said. “I had given a couple of rescue breaths. I could hear the sirens in the background, and Woody checked the pulse and started CPR right away.”

In the emergency medical service field, there is a phrase, “the chain of survival,” said Brian Jones, battalion chief of Sierra Vista Fire Department.

“Within that chain, there are certain steps that have to be taken in order to have a good outcome,” he said. Calling 911 and starting first aid immediately, and taking corrective action, such as defibrillating a patient who needs it, are vital in situations such as this one. “In this incident, it was a perfect chain.”

Sierra Vista Fire Department medical personnel would soon arrive and defibrillate Savannah twice before taking her to the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, before she was airlifted to Tucson Medical Center.

Sayers said she was told the entire event, from the time her daughter collapsed, to the time she arrived at the hospital, would measure only about 10 minutes.

Last week, as she recalled the various meetings with doctors who would tell her things like only one in 10 people survive what her daughter had just went through, Karen Sayers told the two dozen or so friends and family gathered at the Buena softball field why the cardiologist had been so interested in the immediate care her daughter received when she first collapsed.

“He said, ‘because not only did she give it in a timely manner, but she gave it really well.’ There was no damage to her heart and there were no signs of oxygen deprivation to her brain. He said that you saved her life,” she said, speaking to Schaefer and Wood.

After struggling to come up with an appropriate way to thank them, Sayers presented both with framed photographs of her family at Thanksgiving – “We had a lot to be thankful for this year” – and a photo taken while Savannah was still recuperating in the hospital and Wood and Schaefer had paid her a visit.

Below the photos was a message of eternal gratitude from a thankful family.

Soon after the incident, Savannah was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a heart rhythm disorder that can potentially cause fast, chaotic heartbeats. These rapid heartbeats may trigger a sudden fainting spell or seizure. In some cases, your heart may beat erratically for so long that it can cause sudden death.”

Savannah, an athlete who played volleyball and basketball in middle school, would come to have an internal cardiac defibrillator implanted in her heart.

While her future in sports may be less clear these days, what is not is the appreciation she and her family have for those that saved her life.

“Thank you for knowing how to do your jobs and for responding so quickly, and for being the right people at the right time,” Karen Sayers said.

“Without a doubt, it’s a miracle. God took care of her, in all aspects, according to the way I see things,” Schaefer said. “Seeing her laying on the ground that day, to Friday when we went up there to see her, I just look at her and think, ‘What a miracle.’”

In addition to the framed photos from the Sayers, Wood and Schaefer were presented with Life-Saving Awards from the Sierra Vista Police Department.

Battalion Chief Jones also presented the two with Challenge Coins, given out within the department to firefighters who go above and beyond the call of duty.

“It’s imperative that as citizens that we act, and on that day, Woody and Coach Schaefer acted, and acted in a way that really saved a life,” Jones said.