Friday, June 15, 2001

Pitch Wasn't Teen's Last, Thanks to Defibrillator

By Lucio Guerrero, Staff Reporter.

June 15, 2001 - With his team up by three runs and a runner on first, Sean Morley was looking to maybe knock in another score.

What he got was an inside pitch that set off an improbable chain of events that probably would have cost the Buffalo Grove boy his life if not for a lucky set of circumstances: a pair of doctors who happened to be in the stands, a quick call to 911 and a police officer who was on patrol nearby with a defibrillator in his trunk.

The pitcher hurled a fastball, chest high, but way inside. It hit the 13-year-old in the chest. The thud could be heard in the dugout.

The young ballplayer went into cardiac arrest--something that experts said would have happened only under the most precise conditions. The ball would have to be going more than 30 miles an hour. It would have to strike Sean in a small area just above the heart. And his heart would have to be in between beats.

That's such a rare confluence of events that, out of millions of kids who play baseball each year, it happens to only about 60, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

Sean's heart raced up to 400 beats a minute, and he fell to his knees. He collapsed face-first onto the ground at Jewett Park in Deerfield.

"The people in the stands knew that something serious was going on," Arnie Harris, the team's manager, said of the scene Wednesday afternoon. "It was very apparent that something was wrong."

Harris ran onto the field, and spectators yelled out to call 911. One parent did. Two other parents of kids on Sean's team joined the coach. Luckily, both of the men--Fred Duboe and Robert Molnar--are doctors and were able to keep the boy alive.

"The first thing we did was turn him over to see if he was breathing," said Molnar, an anesthesiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. "He was, but he was not conscious."

Sean was breathing fairly normally when the doctors first arrived--about 12 to 16 times a minute--but then slowed to just a couple of times a minute. The doctors found a weak pulse and tried elevating his legs to get the blood flowing.

They were losing the boy when a police officer arrived with a portable defibrillator.

"I was on patrol near the park when I was flagged down by a woman who said that a kid was hit with a baseball," said Deerfield Police Officer Geoffrey Ruther.

Ruther was on his way to help when the dispatcher warned that the ballfield victim was in cardiac arrest.

"Then, I knew it was more than just some kid getting hit in the arm," Ruther said. "That's when I grabbed the defibrillator."

The portable defibrillator--a suitcase-sized device that delivers a powerful electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat--is one of six that the Deerfield police carry in patrol cars.

Ruther placed the pads on the unconscious boy, and the machine read that the boy needed to be shocked.

"I pressed the button, and [Sean] flinched," Ruther said.

The boy's heartbeat quickly returned to normal. By the time he was taken to the hospital, he was awake and alert. On Thursday, Sean was in good condition at Children's Memorial Hospital.

Everyone involved said they were lucky to have been there, but they all point to the portable defibrillator as making the difference. The devices are becoming more readily available in public places such as airplanes, shopping malls and parks to cardiac victims.

"Without it, this could have had a different outcome," Ruther said. "It was the real lifesaver."

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