Ron Courson has made a life helping others prepare for competition.
Whether it has been at colleges throughout the Southeast or at international events like the 1988 or ”92 Olympic Games, Courson has earned a reputation for being one of the best in his field because he is seldom unprepared.
But years of athletic battles pale in comparison when it comes to saving someone”s life.
That”s the situation Courson and other medical personnel and support staff members faced when they were pressed into service to save the life of Mississippi State Director of Track and Field Al Schmidt.
MSU”s longtime coach, who had a cardiac history, suffered a heart attack May 12 at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships at Spec Towns Track in Athens, Ga.
Three months earlier, Courson had given a speech on sudden cardiac arrest at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association”s conference in Charlotte, N.C.
So it wasn”t surprising to see the University of Georgia”s medical personnel spring into action. Assistant athletic trainer David Chandler was the first on the scene to tend to Schmidt. He performed CPR with Dr. Donald Lazas, the father of a runner from the University of Arkansas, and administered a shock from an automated external defibrillator (AED) that was on site.
Schmidt”s pulse returned after the initial shock, but it faded and he flat-lined.
By that time, Courson had arrived from the other side of the field and helped administer a second shock that resuscitated Schmidt and got his pulse to return and then settled.
Members of the support staff assisted in other functions to ensure EMS responders had access to the infield of the track. Schmidt then was transported to the hospital, which was minutes away, where he made his recovery.
Today, Schmidt is back at work and slowly getting his walking legs under him. If not for the work of Chandler, Lazas, Courson, and others, Schmidt might have died at the meet. As gruesome as that thought sounds, Courson said it is one all medical personnel at sporting events have to know how to handle.
“You never know in sports medicine,” Courson said. “You always have to be prepared and it goes back to planning and preparation.”
Aside from freak accidents in the javelin or the hammer throw, track and field meets typically don”t feature many emergency medical situations. Courson said football, lacrosse, or hockey are sports that have more instances that require medical personnel to react to a life-threatening incident.
Regardless of the venue, Courson said athletic trainers or doctors have to respond in a moment”s notice. This time, Courson said Georgia”s staff members (three certified athletic trainers and four student-athletic trainers) were ready.
Thanks to an emergency action plan specific to Spec Towns Track, everyone knew what to do. Courson said all members of the support staff rehearse that plan regularly to ensure they are ready. The training proved timely because everyone knew there was a travel bag and medical equipment less than 75 yards away from where Schmidt went down.
Courson said details like that are critical in life-and-death situations. He said most people won”t survive the eight to 12 minutes it might take EMS responders to arrive on scene. As a result, it”s imperative for staff members on site to be able to cut first response time to one or two minutes, like they did in Schmidt”s case, to improve the chances for survival.
Courson said the fact there was as an AED on site allowed medical personnel to electronically transmit an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to the hospital that showed the heart”s electrical activity. Vascular surgeons and staff members in the hospital”s cath lab (an exam room or clinic with diagnostic imaging equipment used to support the catheterization procedure) also were alerted to cut down lag time once Schmidt arrived so they could begin treatment immediately.
After the incident, Courson said Georgia went through a debriefing. The first came in the within 24 hours so the event was fresh in the mind of everyone involved. He said the goal is to review what happened and to examine procedures that were used to determine if they were successful. The next morning, Courson said a second, formal review took place with the entire staff. He hopes neither he nor anyone at the University of Georgia or any other school will have to go through an incident like Schmidt”s, but he said the work prior to the meet was key to a positive outcome.
“The bottom line is it goes back to preparation,” Courson said. “If you”re in a football game in overtime and you have a last-second onsides kick, you practice that during the week because you need to use it and you need to be ready. We rehearsed the emergency action plan immediately before the meet and we reviewed the plan with the EMS people that morning, so we were very familiar with it, which is why it went well.”
Credit to Courson and everyone involved in working to save Schmidt life. It isn”t every day when we get a chance to meet or talk to a hero. In this case, all it took to do the job of a hero was to be prepared. It”s something we all can be in case we need to help someone in need in an instant.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.