I’ve worked at Pope John Paul II High School in Upper Providence as an athletic trainer for six years. My job requires that I complete cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training every two years, but I never imagined being in a situation where I would need to put my training to use to save someone’s life – let alone the life of healthy 16-year-old student.

In March 2018, on the first day of softball tryouts, the team was doing pop fly drills in right field when Maeve Quinn dove to catch a ball and hit the ground. Soon afterward she started wheezing and struggling to breathe. The coach called me toΙΙ report that she had an athlete hyperventilating and had begun CPR.

Maeve regained her breathing as a result of the coach’s CPR, so she was moved onto her side to help open her airway. But from the time the coach called me to the time I got to the field — maybe three minutes — Maeve had become unconscious and stopped breathing entirely, and she had started to turn blue.

My brain kicked into crisis mode. Concerned that she was in cardiac arrest, I turned Maeve back over and began to perform CPR. I instructed my assistant grab an automated external defibrillator (AED), which was thankfully nearby in my car, which I had driven to the field.

As soon as the AED arrived, we followed the instructions and administered a shock. Maeve still wasn’t breathing, so my assistant and I continued to perform CPR, then shocked her with the AED again.

We performed CPR until EMTs finally arrived. It had only been six and a half minutes, but it felt like hours.

Thanks to the fast action of CPR and AED, and the timely arrival of EMTs, Maeve was revived and has made a full recovery. At the hospital, doctors assessed that she had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest caused by idiopathic (unknown cause) ventricular fibrillation (IVF). Without the immediate lifesaving breaths and shock from the AED, Maeve’s story would have a much different ending.

Maeve Quinn, a student at Pope John Paul II High School, with athletic trainer Tracey Rarich.
Maeve Quinn, a student at Pope John Paul II High School, with athletic trainer Tracey Rarich.

Cardiac arrest is sudden and unexpected – Maeve was a healthy teen when she went down. It can happen to anyone at any time, and if there isn’t someone around who knows how to perform CPR or use an AED, the results could be fatal.

At the time of Maeve’s cardiac arrest, only five people at our school were CPR certified. A year later, we’ve trained 20 new staff members to save lives. CPR is a critical, life-saving skill, and it’s important that Pennsylvania become the 39th state to pass legislation so that students across the state can learn CPR before they graduate high school.

CPR, especially if performed immediately, can triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. But only about half of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest receive the immediate help that they need before EMTs arrive. The average national rate of bystander CPR is 39.9 percent. By comparison, the bystander CPR rate here in Philadelphia is only 15 percent, because not enough people are trained to deliver lifesaving compressions in an emergency.

CPR saved Maeve’s life, and can save so many more lives if our community is willing to learn. Cardiovascular disease doesn’t have to be the number one cause of death in Philadelphia and across the country if we’re prepared to save lives.

Tracey Rarich is the assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer at Pope John Paul II High School.

A Message from the American Heart Association:

National CPR & AED Awareness Week is June 1 to 7. During this time, the American Heart Association shines a spotlight on how lives can be saved if more Americans know CPR and how to use an AED.

Hands-only CPR only takes a few minutes to learn, the basic steps are:

1. Call 911.

2. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive”, which is 120 beats per minute.

You can help local high schools become CPR-training ready by donating to the association’s CPR in Schools initiative, which will place a CPR training kit in the school of your choice. This will prepare schools for their training requirement and put thousands of new live-savers in our community.