Torrey Pines High School athletes took part in Athletes Saving Athletes on March 8, a new program designed to improve the safety of high school sports by educating students on the basics of how they can help save a life in the event of head and neck injuries, sudden cardiac arrest, heat illness, diabetes and asthma.
Athletes Saving Athletes was created by Advocates for Injured Athletes, an organization co-founded by Beth Mallon and her son Tommy after Tommy suffered a life-threatening neck fracture in 2009 while playing lacrosse at Santa Fe Christian.
This was only the second Athletes Saving Athletes presentation; the first was held at Santa Fe Christian and the third will be presented to Point Loma High School athletes on March 22.
The 50 Torrey Pines athletes in the program were nominated by their coaches and represented nearly all the sports on campus. They spent the day learning signs and symptoms of concussions, neck injuries and heat illnesses, and what they should do in each case. One broad solution they were taught were the three Rs — Recognize, Report and Refrain: Recognize the signs of symptoms, report to a coach or trainer and refrain from rushing back to play.
Students also were shown how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) and completed a CPR course.
“Don’t take it as a day off of school, take it to heart,” said Tommy Mallon. “Because really, you guys are the first ones there. If my teammate would’ve pulled me up, I might not be here.”
Tommy’s story was one of three told to Torrey Pines students to highlight head, heart and heat injuries, which are the most dangerous and catastrophic.
The hit that broke Tommy’s neck looked like just an average hit, not even particularly hard. Students watched video footage from the game of Tommy racing for a ball, colliding with a defender and crumpling to the ground.
Tommy said he wanted to get back up but Riki Kirchhoff, the certified athletic trainer who happened to be at the game that day, recognized the severity of Tommy’s injury when he told her that he could not feel the back of his head. At the hospital it was found he had broken his neck at the C-1 vertebra, where the skull and the spine connect.
Tommy was in a neck brace for four months, had a neck halo put in for nearly five months, and had to re-learn to walk. Currently a college student, he says he feels great now save for some trouble sleeping.
In addition to Tommy’s story, students also learned about Brittan Sutphin, who survived sudden cardiac arrest at a high school swim team practice in Colorado, and football player Will James, who survived a near fatal heat stroke at practice.
“These are three athletes saved by the power of knowledge,” said Kirchhoff, who led the course with TPHS’ trainer Christina Scherr.
Beth Mallon said, unfortunately, there are a lot more stories they could’ve told the students, as 40 young athletes died last year while playing their sport.