Tucker Paul doesn’t remember the moments after his heart stopped beating. Now he has a device the size of a credit card in his chest, which ensures that he never forgets.
The 14-year-old Kalispell soccer player had just scored a goal at the three-blind reference tournament in Kalispell early in the morning of his team’s game on June 6 when he suddenly collapsed.
Paul’s next memory was waking up in the hospital surrounded by his family, unaware that a small group of medical professionals and the use of an automatic external defibrillator (AED) had saved his life.
Paul’s mother, former Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher, was sitting on the sidelines with her husband on that chilly Sunday morning when she saw a player “go down like a sack of potatoes” near the center line. Little did she know that her son had collapsed.
“I didn’t think it was Tucker at first. Nothing wrong with him. There’s never anything wrong with him,” recalled Fisher. “I thought he might have been hit in the head, but it wasn’t. When I got to his side, he was clearly gone. He was blue, without a pulse and completely lifeless. I couldn’t believe what I was doing saw.” . “
TRAVIS AND Jaimee Dorvall, both nurses at Logan Health Whitefish, were watching their son play a match on the adjacent field when they heard someone yell that a player was having a seizure.
“We turned to continue watching our game when we were yelling someone to call 911, so I ran over to see if I could help. When I got there, Tucker was gray and had no pulse,” said Jaimee Dorvall. “My first reaction was to call Travis because I know he knows CPR. Before I knew it, Travis was doing chest compressions.”
Logan Health’s sports coaches Amy Thoreson and Tracey Houser were in the medical tent a few hundred yards away when the call for help reached them.
Thoreson and the tournament director sped to the field on a golf cart while Houser began jogging the hundreds of yards to the crime scene.
When Thorseon got to the boy’s side, she immediately understood the gravity of the situation.
“I ran to Tucker and tried to take his pulse but couldn’t find one,” she said. “He was gasping for breath, so I immediately turned to Tracey and told her to get the AED.”
Houser quickly turned and sprinted back to the medical tent to retrieve the device while those around Paul continued to administer CPR.
Two shocks from the AED brought Paul’s heart back to normal, but he remained unconscious when an ambulance took him to Logan Health Medical Center.
ONE BATTERY Tests and time have yet to uncover the cause of the acute cardiac event that sent Tucker to the ground that day, but the internal cardiac defibrillator, or IED, inserted under the skin on the left side of his chest, remains ready to respond stand again.
For Tucker, the event was a surreal experience that left him with no memory between running back from the gate and waking up in the hospital surrounded by his family.
“I just don’t remember it at all,” he said. “I woke up when they told me what had happened and I just couldn’t believe it.”
While he was acquitted of continuing to play soccer and other contact sports, he has decided to embark on a new recreational path.
“My solution will be to play golf or something less active than football,” he said. “From now on I don’t want to take this risk anymore in contact sports.”
THE USAGE using the AED to save their son’s life was particularly effective for Fisher, whose Gap Fillers charity has made the devices available to local schools for several years.
“I had heard of AEDs, but I never really knew what they were doing until now,” she said. “I now know that having AEDs and knowing how to use them for both training and competition is vital for all of our schools and coaches.”
Fisher and Gap Fillers announced the purchase of four AEDs on June 8th, which were donated to Bigfork High School, where a football player collapsed and later died after the first day of practice in 2007.
In addition, the Logan Health Youth Development Program has approved the purchase of an additional 20 AED units to be placed in schools and youth sports programs in the area.
While Fisher says the family may never know what caused their son’s cardiac arrest, they’re just glad the coaches borrowed an AED from the Summit Medical Fitness Center to have on hand during the soccer tournament.
“It was crazy,” said Fisher. “There was no obvious cause, like a blow in the chest or anything like that. His EKG was normal when he was exercising and it was normal when he was hospitalized. His MRI was normal and they couldn’t find a heart muscle.” It was not a heart attack but a sudden cardiac death with no known cause.
“It’s scary as a parent,” she continued. “The lesson for me as a parent is that you need to be sure that you have an AED. You won’t always be lucky enough to have people knowledgeable about CPR. I think we will never know the cause and we have to accept that. We may not know why it happened, but we know the solution. I just urge parents with active children to be careful and know where the nearest AED is during an event. “
FOR BOTH Tucker and his mother are slowly returning to normal life. He’s back to his normal routine of waking up early to walk the family dog and occasionally mow the lawn, but the IED in his chest will serve as a lifelong reminder of the day his heart stopped beating.
“I don’t think I fully understand the gravity and implications of the situation yet,” he admitted. “I woke up and felt no pain at all, so I just pretty much roll with it.”
Fisher said she looked for her son every 15 minutes after the traumatic event.
“I can walk for about an hour now,” said Fisher. “It reassures me to know that there is something else to protect the IED other than a floating mother.”
Reporter Jeremy Weber can be reached at 406-758-4446 or [email protected]