Danny Witbeck, a star athlete at Evart High School, collapsed during basketball practice in January. College coach Kris Morgan revived Danny with CPR and an AED. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“It seemed like an eternity, but it was maybe five minutes max, from start to finish,” said coach Morgan. Danny was seated when the rescue team arrived. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Danny’s parents, Torey and Katie, got a phone call and rushed to school from the family farm. “We totally say it’s a matter of God,” Katie said. “He really orchestrated everything.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Danny is an outstanding player on his school’s baseball and football teams. When the baseball season kicks off, he’ll be back on the pitcher’s mound in his stead. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Danny always shows up to basketball practices to support his teammates and help coaches, although he’s not used to watching the action from the sideline. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
The same scenario happened 10 years ago at Fennville High School in western Michigan. In this case, there was no AED available at the school and the athlete did not survive. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
To be sure, the doctors inserted an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator, or ICD, into Danny’s chest. If his heart stops again, the ICD will automatically put him back into rhythm. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Danny says he’s happy to be alive. “I look at life from a new perspective,” he said. “Life is so unexpected and things happen for a reason.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“Danny goes full blast with everything,” Katie said. “He’s been endowed with natural abilities and he’s using it the best he can.” (Photos courtesy of Marta Carmichael)
Danny Witbeck is not used to staying on the sidelines.
But the star player of the Evart High School football, basketball and baseball teams spends the rest of the basketball season on the bench.
The 18-year-old is just happy to be alive, cheering on his teammates.
Looking back, Danny was feeling excited to go to basketball practice on January 22. It was like a normal Friday.
Until it doesn’t.
In the middle of a team training session, Danny collapsed.
His trainer, third grade teacher Kris Morgan, rushed to his side and found Danny unresponsive and breathing heavily.
Morgan began CPR as Danny’s teammates ran to retrieve one of the school’s two Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs. The assistant coach quickly called 911.
And then it got worse.
“One time her breathing almost stopped,” Morgan said. “I knew something big was going on.”
Fortunately, the coach, assistant coach and high school students have all been trained in CPR and how to use an AED.
It paid off.
As the police and rescue teams arrived, Danny straightened up. He insisted he felt good.
“It all seemed to go on forever, but it was maybe five minutes max, start to finish,” Morgan said.
Meanwhile, Danny’s parents Torey and Katie rushed to school from the family farm. They had received a phone call from the principal of the college, a close friend who had happened to drop out of school amid the drama of life and death.
“We totally say it’s God’s business,” Katie said. “He really orchestrated everything.
Paramedics loaded Danny into an ambulance and rushed him to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Katie got into the ambulance and Torey followed in her own vehicle.
When the hospital staff first examined Danny, he looked fine. Almost too good for an accurate diagnosis, thanks to the rapid rescue activities that avoided complications.
Initially, the doctors thought he had just passed out or had a seizure. They admitted him for observation and cardiology consultation.
That’s when Danny and his family met a cardiologist. André Gauri, MD.
Dr Gauri wanted to understand how the event went, so he called Coach Morgan on speakerphone and asked him to explain what had happened to Danny.
He learned that the basketball player had collapsed. He had breathed heavily. He couldn’t answer.
A classic case of sudden cardiac arrest.
And an all too familiar story.
The same scenario happened 10 years ago at Fennville High School in western Michigan. In this case, there was no DEA available at the school. The athlete died of sudden cardiac arrest.
After this tragedy, the student’s mother worked to raise awareness and bring AEDs and mandatory training to Michigan schools.
The Spectrum Health cardiology team joined the effort, hosting meetings and donating AEDs to several Michigan schools.
And now everything has paid off.
“If Coach Morgan hadn’t done what he did, Danny would have died,” said Dr Gauri.
He is happy that Coach Morgan and the team knew what to do.
“It was as perfect of a cardiac arrest survival chain run as I have ever seen,” said Dr. Gauri.
The chain of survival refers to the chain of events that can save a life: recognizing the situation, calling 911, starting CPR, using an AED, EMS intervention, and hospital care.
Or, as Katie put it, “It was a textbook.”
Evart Public Schools are taking the lesson to heart, with plans to add several outdoor AED stations to their athletic facilities, Morgan said.
Back in full swing
Dr Gauri said Danny had a normal heart.
Although genetic testing may one day uncover the cause of the problem, no preseason screening could have predicted his sudden cardiac arrest.
The good news? This is unlikely to happen again.
Just to be sure, however, Dr Gauri inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator into Danny’s chest. If his heart stops again, the device automatically puts him back into rhythm.
As spring approaches, Danny can start training again.
When the baseball season kicks off, he’ll be back on the pitcher’s mound in his stead.
“Danny goes full blast with everything,” Katie said. “He’s lucky to have natural abilities and he uses them as best he can.”
Danny can’t wait to get back to baseball, his favorite sport.
But he sees it a little differently now.
“I look at life from a new perspective,” he says. “Life is so unexpected and things happen for a reason. We just need to put our faith in God and His plan for us and take advantage of the people around you. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Dr Gauri wants to use this story to get the word out to all parents and athletes.
“Learning CPR is not a massive commitment,” said Dr. Gauri. “It’s a small commitment that can save a life – and that’s exactly what Coach Morgan did.”
There’s no reason every coach can’t be a Morgan coach, he said.
“He’s just a normal guy who knew what to do. Now he’s a hero, and the world can use more heroes! “