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IHC’s Jack Valentine returning to normal life following cardiac arrest in March


WATERTOWN — Now, he is back in school. Now, he is active again. Now, he shows no signs of having collapsed — with no pulse — during a basketball game at Indian River High School three months ago.

Tracy H. Valentine calls the recovery of her son, Jack, miraculous — one grand miracle built on smaller ones.

“There’s a lot of little miracles in this case,” Mrs. Valentine said.

Perhaps one miracle was the school nurse who happened to be walking nearby on March 4, the day Jack — a center/forward on the Immaculate Heart Central School seventh-grade modified basketball team — collapsed from a cardiac arrest during a game against Indian River in Philadelphia.

The school nurse was on a track — located above the gym floor around its perimeter — and happened to be hovering that day like a guardian angel.

Maybe another miracle involved the coach who briefly, but vitally, gave CPR before the nurse and other help arrived.

Maybe it also was a miracle that Jack did not collapse at home.

“The way I look at it is that it was a very unfortunate event, but we were very fortunate in a lot of ways,” Mrs. Valentine said. “If it happened at home, it would have been a different outcome.”

Five people who reacted when Jack collapsed will be honored with Heartsaver Hero Awards this evening at an American Heart Association volunteer celebration at Savory Downtown restaurant on Washington Street. The event, closed to the public, also will feature several other volunteer awards.

Jack, a seventh-grader, said he doesn’t recall the episode that led to his spending nearly two weeks at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse and nine days at Boston Children’s Hospital. He then spent three weeks recovering at home before returning to school on April 22.

“I just remember going to the game,” Jack said Friday at his Ives Street home, where he sat at the dining room table with his mom, who was busy attending to her three other children, ages 6 to 11.

“We’re trying to get back to a normal routine, and we’re slowly getting back into it,” Mrs. Valentine said.

That normalcy was shaken March 4 at Indian River High School.

Jack, 13, said he didn’t feel well before the game, and his mom said he had felt similarly before a few other games.

“I think maybe he thought he had the nervous jitters,” she said.

Jack said he mainly felt lightheaded. His mom said that on March 3, he left the game at General Brown in Dexter before it started after his coach, Scott Ruehle, told him to go home. Jack’s father, Edward J. Valentine, drove him.

Jack collapsed after the first quarter of the game the next day at Indian River.

“As the kids were going back to the benches, Jack sat down on a chair,” Indian River coach Steven C. Moffett said. “He looked a little pale.”

Mr. Moffett rushed out of the gym to see if the school trainer, Ashley N. Naklick, was around. He was told she was at nearby Indian River Middle School. Someone called her.

“I walked back in, and he was starting to have little convulsions,” said Mr. Moffett, who added Jack was now on the floor. “I was right by his head, and his coach (Mr. Ruehle) was right by his side, and Jack’s dad came over. He was by his other side.”

Mr. Moffett said Jack’s convulsions stopped and his lips turned blue. He found he wasn’t breathing and he had no pulse.

“I said ‘Scott, CPR! Hurry up! He’s not breathing,’” Mr. Moffett said. “He gave him two pumps. After the second pump, he gasped a huge breath of air. His head kind of fell in my hand.”

But Jack stopped breathing again.

“He gave him two more pumps, and he took another gasp,” Mr. Moffett said. “Right at that time, someone brought the AED (automated external defibrillator) over, and the nurse came down.”

By this time, Ms. Naklick, the trainer, also had arrived.

“At that point, I removed Jack’s dad away from him because he wouldn’t let go of his hand,” Mr. Moffett said.

“The Indian River staff acted pretty quickly,” said Mr. Ruehle, who noted he did no more than eight chest compressions before the nurse and trainer took over.

a ‘coincidental’ walk

Theresa M. Leeson, a nurse at Indian River for 33 years and an IHC graduate, had just started her spring routine of walking on the Indian River campus on March 4.

“I love to walk, and I walk a lot,” Mrs. Leeson said. “My friend and I usually walk outdoors. We had been procrastinating because of the weather. That was the first day of this spring that we actually went on the (inside) track. Just the fact that it was our first day was more than coincidental.”

Mrs. Leeson said that out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Jack appeared to be in distress.

“I continued walking around to the other side of the gym where he was, looked over, and knew he needed help,” she said.

Mrs. Leeson told her walking partner that she had to get down to the gym floor. Ms. Naklick, the athletic trainer, arrived shortly thereafter.

“His coach was kneeling beside him when I got down there,” Mrs. Leeson said. “I checked for a pulse and they said they had already done that. I couldn’t detect one.”

Meanwhile, Jack’s IHC teammates began praying for him, and bystanders began crying.

Mrs. Leeson started chest compressions, a task taken over by Ms. Naklick while Mrs. Leeson prepared to use the AED. The device can detect the slightest “shockable” heart rhythm. If none is found, responders are instructed to continue CPR.

After one shock, Jack’s heart started again.

“Then we felt there was a pulse,” Mrs. Leeson said. “We stayed with him and rolled him up on his side until the EMS folks arrived.”

Jack was taken to Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown by Indian River Ambulance Service.

Jack’s father, who regularly attends his son’s games, called his wife. She was at home helping her other children — Chet, Ella and Kent — with their homework.

“He said Jack collapsed,” Mrs. Valentine said. “You get kind of stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I couldn’t believe it when I got to the hospital. I thought that this really doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Valentines were at Samaritan for only three hours before Mrs. Valentine said a “medical SWAT team” from Upstate Golisano hospital arrived to rush Jack to Syracuse.

It was there that it was discovered that Jack had developed aspiration pneumonia during his cardiac arrest. That happens when food, saliva, liquid or vomit is breathed into the lungs or airways. His condition was listed as critical for several days.

“That ended up being a very big deal,” Mrs. Valentine said.

Jack was sedated and on a ventilator for nine days.

“On the third day, we were very encouraged when doctors allowed sedation to wear off a bit and he was able to respond to commands — squeeze the doctor’s hand, move his legs, nod yes and no — and then opened his eyes and tried to smile,” Mrs. Valentine said.

“I just remember waking up and my head hurt,” Jack said. “And it took awhile for me to walk.” It took several rounds of physical therapy for Jack to regain his walking skills.

defibrillator installed

On March 20, Jack was transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital, where the defibrillator was put in. During his hospitalizations, friends and relatives stayed with Jack’s siblings at home. Boston Children’s is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s No. 1 hospital specializing in children’s care.

“They are very experienced in implanting defibrillators in kids,” Mrs. Valentine said. “We also wanted a second opinion to make sure we weren’t missing something important.”

Jack’s defibrillator, Mrs. Valentine said, is “a safety net” in case he has another cardiac arrest. Thus far, she said, doctors are at a loss as to why her son’s heart stopped. Jack’s family history, Mrs. Valentine said, has no instances of severe heart problems.

“They think that perhaps he had a virus,” she said. “That’s the only explanation we have right now.”

Jack came home from Boston on March 29.

Looking back at the situation, Mr. Valentine, who never left his son’s side while he was hospitalized, speaks haltingly and gets emotional. He mentions “miracles” along with “the people there (at the gym) at that time” and the “thoughts and prayers from everyone in the community.”

“It was an unbelievable chain of events,” he said Monday. “We are very fortunate.”

“The thing that amazes me is that we heard from people we don’t even know,” Mrs. Valentine said. “Maybe a kid who knows Jack would drop off food and say, ‘We’ve been thinking about you guys.’”

Doctors have cleared Jack to play sports again. He joined a summer city lacrosse league and had his first game Friday night. For Mr. Valentine, the game had special meaning in addition to seeing his son play.

“I saw some of the parents for the first time who were at the basketball game,” said Mr. Valentine, who co-owns Valentine Stores Inc. with his brother, John P. Valentine. “It was emotional reuniting with the other parents and the sports connections.”

Jack, at 6 feet, 2 inches, is a defenseman on his lacrosse team, although he said basketball remains his favorite sport.

“He was going to show up and start out slowly,” Mr. Valentine said. “As it turned out, he ended up playing the entire game. It was fantastic and unbelievable to see him out on the field, three months later.”

‘excellent prognosis’

The Valentines are happy that the American Heart Association tonight will honor the five people who helped save their son’s life on March 4 — Mr. Moffett, Mr. Ruehle, Mrs. Leeson, Ms. Naklick and William Backus, a bystander from Antwerp who fetched the AED at Indian River.

Mr. Valentine’s company also will receive an award tonight. The Valentine brothers are developers for the Nice N Easy convenience store chain, which will be named the top company team fundraiser for the 2014 Watertown Heart Walk, a company fundraiser that coincidentally began before Jack’s incident.

The team raised $25,842 for the walk, held in April. The total raised at the walk was $215,000.

But it’s running, not walking, that Jack is now embracing.

“Some people may think, ‘Why would you ever want him to play sports again?’” Mrs. Valentine said. “You want him to be safe, but you also want him to enjoy life and to do the things he likes to do.”

Mrs. Valentine said Jack’s most recent check-up was April 25 and that doctors said his heart was healthy. She also said doctors have told her that if Jack doesn’t have any more heart episodes, his defibrillator could come out.

“So he’s got an excellent prognosis,” she said.

“Yeah, I do,” Jack said. “I feel really great. I think I’m very fortunate.”

Nowadays, he has other things on his mind instead of the events that led to his hospitalization, which he speaks of reluctantly. Jack is an excellent piano player and has a recital scheduled this month at Emmanuel Congregational Church in Watertown.

He mentions his school studies and how he likes science. His class is now studying the heart.

“It’s like how the blood flows and how the heart beats and stuff,” Jack said. “It’s pretty ironic.”

Defibrillator law touted as life-saving

WATERTOWN — The American Heart Association says Jack Valentine is “save number 77” pertaining to Louis’s Law.

Enacted in 2002, the law mandates that all public schools in New York state be equipped with automated external defibrillators. AEDs are portable devices used to treat victims of sudden cardiac arrest by delivering electric shocks. The machines analyze heart rhythms and provide the shock needed for defibrillation.

State agencies likewise are required to have AEDs in public buildings. The state’s Good Samaritan law protects those who use an AED when trying to save a life.

In the case of Jack, an Immaculate Heart Central School seventh-grader who collapsed from a heart episode during a basketball game March 4, the combination of the AED and the quick responses of people who attended to him were the keys to his survival and recovery, according to his heart doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Jack’s recovery was good because of how fast everyone responded, which I can’t stress enough is why these first responders should be commended for what they did,” said Dr. Douglas Mah of the cardiac electrophysiology division at the hospital.

Dr. Mah reviewed data that he said show that patients with access to an AED have a much better chance of survival (38 percent) than those who did not have such access (9 percent).

“In terms of neurological recovery for those who do survive, those who had access to an AED have a much better chance of intact neurological function,” Dr. Mah said.

The doctor said one study found that the chance of survival decreases by 3 to 5 percent for every minute that defibrillation isn’t performed.

“AEDs are helpful in high-volume areas like sporting venues, public transportation and schools,” Dr. Mah said. “Off the top of my head, I’ve seen at least two to three cases over the past several years where a fast response by witnesses has helped to save lives. Basic CPR should still be stressed, but having an AED available can be life-saving.”

Louis’s Law is named after Louis J. Acompora, a high school lacrosse goalie who suffered a cardiac arrest after being hit by a ball in a game in Northport in 2000.

Defibrillation was not administered for more than 12 minutes after his collapse. He died after resuscitation attempts failed.

Theresa M. Leeson, a school nurse in the Indian River School District who used the high school’s AED on Jack, said the staff is routinely trained on the device.

“You use what you know in a circumstance like that,” she said. “It all comes right back. We did it step by step.”

Jay M. Brown, Indian River Central School athletic director, said he believes the March 4 episode involving Jack was the first time the high school’s AED was used. The device is stored right outside the gym.

“It’s absolutely my belief that if he did not receive the treatment that he got, he would not be with us today,” Mr. Brown said.

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