A close call on the soccer field

“I sure hope that’s not for Canen.”

These words seared across Pam Dickman’s mind when she noticed the ambulance racing up behind her. Frantic, Pam was just approaching the local high school in Worthington, Ohio, after a friend called her at home to report that “something had happened” to her 15-year-old son during soccer practice.

But as the ambulance approached the athletic field, she realized with a sickening certainty that the EMS team was in fact there for her son. Terrified, she ran onto the field, where Canen lay motionless, surrounded by his coaches, teammates, and EMTs. “That was the worst moment for me,” Pam says. “His eyes were open, but he wasn’t there.”

That July day had started with a routine soccer training session. Jon Sprunger, a veteran social studies teacher and soccer coach with a 34-year tenure in the Worthington School District, had the team condition on the track before moving onto the field for skill work. As the boys headed to the field after the last lap of a two-mile run, he noticed Canen pull out from the pack. “At first, I didn’t think much of it,” Jon says. “He could be tired or sore – or, as my experience initially suggested, he was simply a teenager who climbed out of bed 30 minutes before coming to practice and hadn’t eaten or drunk anything yet.”

[He] collapsed in a way I had never seen before

Still, Jon kept his eye on Canen – a good call, because a few seconds later, the teenager collapsed. “The way he fell was of immediate concern,” Jon says. “I’ve seen athletes fall before, and they tend to stumble first. Canen literally just collapsed, in a way that I had never seen before. It was as if the essence of who Canen was as a person just instantaneously shut off and his body crumpled to the ground face-first in a lifeless ball.”

Within seconds, Jon was at Canen’s side. With the help of assistant coach Patrick Fagan, he rolled the boy onto his back and started monitoring his vital signs while Patrick called 911. “In the span of about 30 seconds, Canen’s pulse became weaker and weaker until I could no longer find it,” Jon says. “At that point I began CPR and rescue breathing while Coach Fagan turned the 911 call over to a senior athlete and ran to the school to get the AED.”

I feel very blessed that I was able to keep Canen’s heart circulating oxygen to his brain during these critical minutes. I am even more thankful for the quick access to the AED.

—Jon Sprunger, teacher, coach, and rescuer

Jon continued administering CPR as Patrick applied the ZOLL® automated external defibrillator (AED), which provided step-by-step audio prompts to help keep their efforts on track. The device advised a shock, which restored Canen’s heartbeat, although it remained irregular and faint. Jon and Patrick continued performing CPR until paramedics arrived about two minutes later and took over.

Accompanied in the ambulance by Pam, Canen was immediately taken to the hospital, where he remained in the ICU for ten days. He received a subcutaneous ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) and today is doing well. “I was told over and over by my cardiologists that if it weren’t for the quick actions of the coaches doing CPR and using the AED, I wouldn’t be here today,” Canen says.

The longest 8 minutes of my life

Jon, who describes the event as “life-altering,” says that while he had been trained to respond to such incidents, he never thought he would have to use that training. He notes that school security cameras showed that from the time of Canen’s collapse to the time the paramedics arrived, just eight minutes had passed. “The longest eight minutes of my life!”

Canen Dickman
SCA survivor – Canen Dickman

“I feel very blessed that I was able to act to keep Canen’s heart circulating oxygen to his brain during these critical minutes,” Jon continues. “I am even more thankful for the quick access to the AED.”

As Jon sees it, the Worthington City Schools enabled him to save Canen’s life by mandating an emergency plan of action, providing sudden cardiac arrest, CPR, and AED training, and placing AEDs in locations where they could be accessed quickly. He adds that the school now has five AEDs, one of which was installed outside at the stadium following Canen’s SCA.

AED advocate

Since that fateful July morning, Jon has become a passionate advocate for CPR training and ensuring quick access to lifesaving equipment, even testifying before the Ohio State Senate in support of a bill requiring AEDs in schools. “It is my belief that if Worthington City schools had not voluntarily invested in AEDs, Canen Dickman would not be here today. Period.”

Download this story