During lacrosse 16-year-old Tanner collapsed on the field while running sprints.
CPR saves teen’s life
Tanner was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a condition consisting of four abnormalities that together affect the structure of the heart and how blood flows through it. In 1999, Erle H. Austin, M.D., cardiovascular surgeon with Norton Children’s Hospital and UofL Physicians – Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, repaired the defect. After a successful surgery, Tanner experienced virtually no heart issues for the next 15 years, and he sailed through his annual checkups. Because of this, Tanner had been cleared to play competitive sports.
“Tanner loves playing sports,” said his mother, Angela Demling. “We couldn’t keep him away. He was always allowed to continue because his heart continued to perform well.”
That’s why Tanner’s sudden cardiac arrest was a shock to everyone. When Tanner collapsed, Ryan Smith, True Lacrosse Kentucky club coach and Kentucky Country Day School lacrosse coach, was the first responder. Smith rushed to the scene and immediately began to administer CPR. Years earlier, Smith had witnessed his best friend die from sudden cardiac arrest during a college lacrosse practice. This tragic event fueled Smith’s determination to save a life this time.
Brittany Kurtz, R.N., mom of two and pediatric nurse at Norton Children’s Medical Center – Brownsboro, was also instrumental in the race against time. She had just finished watching her daughter play field hockey on a nearby field and was about to head home when she saw two young men running and shouting for help. She ran the length of two football fields to assist Smith in administering CPR.
“As I was running to Tanner, I asked myself if I was up for the challenge. I knew I had been trained [in CPR], but could I do this? Then I thought, what if this was my child? I knew I just had to do the best I could and hope and pray for the best,” Kurtz said.
When Kurtz noticed the blood in Tanner’s mouth, she knew his airway was blocked and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation would be ineffective. She immediately began to perform chest compressions, alternating with Smith for 10 minutes until EMS arrived.
Tanner was taken to Norton Children’s Hospital and spent several days on a ventilator. Miraculously, he recovered without any sign of damage from lack of oxygen to the brain.
“Tanner is the same kid as he was before. Doctors are amazed. The stars were aligned. There was a higher power overseeing this. And for that, I am eternally grateful,” Angela said. “Without CPR, Tanner would not be here. Ryan and Brittany’s immediate response was what saved Tanner and kept the oxygen flowing to his brain. They are now a permanent part of our family.”
Although Tanner is no longer allowed to play lacrosse or other contact sports, he is still involved with his club league and high school team from the sidelines. He dreams of becoming a strength and conditioning coach, and wants to own his own lacrosse business in the future.
Since the incident, the Demling family has made big plans to give back to the community that supported them. They have already sponsored a lacrosse tournament in Tanner’s name, where they trained more than 400 people in CPR and raised enough money to purchase 10 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) for local lacrosse teams. AEDs are electronic devices that immediately diagnose and administer electrical shocks to a person experiencing cardiac arrest. Both AEDs and CPR can mean the difference between life and death. The family also is in the process of starting a foundation to raise awareness and funds for CPR training.
“Tanner wouldn’t be here if the folks around him did not know CPR,” said Tanner’s father, Jody Demling. “Getting everyone trained in CPR is key,” Angela said. “Anyone can be a hero.”
People with congenital heart defects have a greater risk of sudden cardiac arrest, and even regular heart monitoring does not guarantee that issues won’t arise. In Tanner’s case, his collapse was completely unexpected, but he was lucky to have nearby support to save his life.
“I like to tell people that CPR isn’t something you learn for yourself; it’s something you learn for those you love,” Kurtz said.
Tanner remains positive after all he’s been through. Despite the fact that he now has a permanent defibrillator, he hasn’t lost his determination and has put the event behind him. As for his family, they are incredibly grateful for the support of the community, particularly their Holy Trinity parish and Trinity High School.
Expert Care for Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital Heart Center at Norton Children’s Hospital is home to some of the most advanced diagnostic, surgical and interventional treatments available for children and adults with congenital heart defects. Throughout diagnosis and treatment, patients and families remain the focus of the center’s multidisciplinary medical efforts.
The Congenital Heart Center offers:
• Surgical services such as advanced open-heart surgery, minimally invasive heart surgery and transplants
• Outpatient and diagnostic services, including electrocardiography, stress tests and transthoracic, transesophageal and fetal echocardiography
• Cardiac catheterization, including stent implantation, balloon angioplasties and repair of various heart defects
• Pediatric electrophysiology
For more information about the Congenital Heart Center, visit NortonChildrensHospital.com/HeartCare or call (502) 629-KIDS.