Soccer team members help save Georgia man after massive heart attack

Peter Jones had just started playing soccer in Atlanta's Piedmont Park when he suddenly felt unusually winded and tired. The 35-year-old looked toward the sidelines and raised his hand to call for another player to sub in.

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That was when the lights went out.

Teammate Taylor Tyger watched him fall gracefully to the ground. She took it as a joke, just him being dramatic as usual.

“Get up, it’s not even that hot outside,” she thought playfully that early April evening. Then she got close enough to see him frothing at the mouth with his eyes rolled back, and she was filled with terror.

No one knew it yet, but Jones had suffered cardiac arrest caused by a major heart attack so bad it’s commonly referred to as a “widowmaker.” A lot of things had to go right for him to survive.

Two of the soccer players, who happened to be medical professionals at Emory, sprinted over and began administering CPR to get blood flowing to his brain, but they couldn't find a pulse. In order to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm, they needed an Automated External Defibrillator.

AEDs are portable electronic devices that diagnose cardiac irregularities of the heart rhythm and attempt to stop them with defibrillation. They're equipped with voice instructions so anybody can use them, even without prior training.

When Jones went down on the park's field, no one in the crowd could immediately find an AED. Then someone thought to check at the nearby Sharon Lester Tennis Center and found one there.

After about four minutes of CPR, Jones’ teammates tore off his jersey, strapped the AED to his chest and shocked him twice. His pulse returned, and he began breathing better on his own. Paramedics arrived minutes later.

Jones came to on a stretcher, oblivious to the chaos that’d just ensued. Tyger recalls him already joking during the ambulance ride: “Did I at least score when I fell over?”

At Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, Dr. Christopher Meduri stabilized him and put a stent in an artery -- a procedure that the interventional cardiologist said was “100 percent necessary.” Meduri, who shares Jones’ love of soccer –- they’re both Atlanta United season ticket holders — credits Jones’ teammates for helping save his life.

“What stood out was Peter’s young age and how incredibly fortunate he was to have teammates there to do good CPR during his cardiac arrest,” Meduri said. “Without that, his chances of survival would have been much worse and further, if he did survive he would have a high chance of permanent brain damage.”

Jones has played with Hotlanta Soccer, a coed LGBT and ally team that plays with leagues such as Atlanta Sport and Social Club, for about a year. His teammates Dr. Payton Reiter and registered nurse Christian van Scherpenseel are the ones who initially administered CPR.

Reiter said she was grateful she was there for the game and not on call.

“As an exhausted resident it’s these kind of direct positive impact encounters that remind me why I went into medicine in the first place,” Reiter said. “I'm also grateful that an AED was available because the shocks most likely saved his life.”

Van Scherpenseel also stressed the importance of CPR and access to defibrillators in emergency situations.

“Nothing can prepare you for when these workplace scenarios unexpectedly occur in public settings,” he said. “But it wouldn't have mattered if I was in a hospital or on a soccer field, my goal was to keep my friend alive.”

The team started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Jones' medical bills, with any money collected beyond his needs going toward an organization that would place more AEDs around Atlanta. More than $7,500 of a $15,000 goal has been reached.

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