Claire Crawford, with mom Lisa and dad Eric, at her graduation party this year. Early in the same school year, Claire collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest during a volleyball game.
In the video, you see her, a 17-year-old girl playing one of the last games of her high school volleyball career, serve the ball, take a step back, and then, inexplicably, drop to the floor. Out cold. People rush to her aid and try to revive her with CPR, to no avail. Her parents watch. Two long minutes pass. The people who rushed to her aid hook her up to a machine and follow its prompts. You hear those machine’s prompts on the video, as the packed gym is utterly silent otherwise. After nearly three minutes with no breath and no pulse, the student’s heart starts to beat again.
The girl, Claire Crawford, suffered sudden cardiac arrest. The team that saved her included an athletic trainer and an administrator from the school’s Code Blue team, which had trained and practiced for such a scenario. The machine that shocked her heart back was, of course, an AED (automatic external defibrillator).
Does my daughter’s school have an athletic trainer, I wondered, watching the video. Does it have AEDs? Are they close enough to every field and gym and auditorium to make a difference? As a parent you can’t help but wonder about every worst-case scenario. After all, as writer Elizabeth Stone said, having a child “is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Professor of Kinesiology Doug Casa wants parents to ask these questions and he wants us to challenge our kids’ schools and athletic organizations to have the right answers. Director of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at UConn, Casa works at all levels — the military, the NFL, NCAA, etc. — to prevent and treat sudden death in athletes. What’s different at the high school level is that there is no national governing body that can make and enforce policy. So the fight to spread awareness happens state by state, school by school, parent by parent.
“Doug is out there knocking on doors across the country,” writer Colin Poitras ’85 (CLAS) told me when we first discussed the story that begins on page 18. “He’s talking to people in backyards and at tiny PTA meetings. He’s tireless.”
“I’m driven by my own experience, the good fortune of surviving, and I want to pay it forward,” says Casa (that story is on page 25). But, he says, the biggest thing that keeps him and his team motivated is this: “Nearly all the deaths that happen in sport are preventable. It’s just unbearable to live with the fact that a death could have been prevented with just some simple policies. Our slogan is, Do whatever you can before they die.”
Sadly, not every family is as fortunate as Claire’s was. Not every school is as prepared. Whether you’re a parent or not, I dare you to read Poitras’s article “The Small Price of Survival: What Doug Casa Wants Every Parent to Know” and come away unaffected. As a parent, I want to say thank you to Casa and everyone at KSI for that tireless work they are doing. I’ll do my part to spread the word.