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Brittan Sutphin was a 16-year-old multisport athlete at a Colorado high school when she almost died during a routine swim practice. Sutphin hadn’t completed one 50-meter lap when she lost consciousness and sunk to the bottom of the pool. She suffered sudden cardiac arrest and almost drowned.

A quick-thinking teammate saw Sutphin go under and pulled her out of the water. Her swim coach administered CPR while a lifeguard retrieved an automated external defibrillator (AED). Sutphin’s rescuers managed to revive her.

There was no emergency action plan in place. Things just happened to work out that day for Sutphin, who currently is a sophomore tennis player at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles. A year ago she became an ambassador for Advocates for Injured Athletes (A4IA), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting student-athletes.

She helped A4IA recently launch Athletes Saving Athletes (ASA), a free educational pilot program that’s expected to reach more than 300 San Diego high school student-athletes this year. It’s designed to teach lifesaving skills and provide information on how to implement an emergency action plan.

ASA debuted at Santa Fe Christian High in January and held its second program this month at Torrey Pines High.

Sutphin joined A4IA co-founder Tommy Mallon, certified athletic trainers and American Red Cross instructors in teaching 50 selected student-athletes the signs and symptoms of life-threatening issues including concussions, head and neck injuries, sudden cardiac arrest, heat illness, diabetes and asthma.

“I hope that the program spreads to as many high schools as possible and helps educate everybody,” said Sutphin.

Organizers are hoping as many as 10 high schools in the San Diego area will host the ASA program this year.

“We started Athletes Saving Athletes to inform athletes to be the first responders since they are the first ones there on the field, just to have that knowledge to know what to do when you see your teammate go down,” said Mallon, who suffered three concussions and a broken neck over the course of his three-sport career at Santa Fe Christian, where he had the benefit of a certified athletic trainer. “Our hope is that we can save at least one life. If we do that, then our job is done.”

Two Torrey Pines athletes from every campus sport were nominated by their coach. After completing the five-hour course, the attendees were CPR- and AED-certified, as well as ASA Student Ambassadors.

High school athletes suffer 2 million injuries each year and yet, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, only 42 percent of high schools nationwide have athletic trainers.

“Currently (some) school budgets cannot or do not choose to support the position of a full-time (certified athletic trainer),” said Beth Mallon, Tommy’s mother and co-founder of Advocates for Injured Athletes. “Even if they do have a (certified athletic trainer), the person cannot be at every game or practice every minute.”

Beth Mallon said ASA’s intent is not to replace medical care but rather supplement it, and she realizes some will question why student-athletes should be shouldering this responsibility.

“Until we have certified athletic trainers on every campus, we are empowering athletes with tools that may help save a life,” she said. “Why not train athletes to learn basic skills?”

Rachel Rankin, a Torrey Pines senior lacrosse and field hockey player, agreed.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Rankin. “For schools that don’t have access to an athletic trainer it will be really helpful and … will maybe even prevent a death.”

Liam Barnes, a junior midfielder on the Falcons’ boys lacrosse team, recognized the need to have someone on the team know how to perform CPR, understand what an AED is and how to use it and be First-Aid certified.

“It’s crucial to have this program,” said Barnes. “Anything can happen at practice.”

Torrey Pines has four AEDs on campus. Not only do the ASA attendees now know where they’re located, they know how to use them. Beth Mallon said the majority of the attendees did not know what an AED was before the program, let alone where it was. A post-program test showed 100 percent did.

As far as the rest of the student body?

“I think definitely not,” said Rankin.

But that’s where their new role comes into play. As an ambassador she is responsible for relaying this information to teammates. It’s hoped the trickle-down effect will have a wide impact on the overall campus.

Rankin relishes the role.

“As a Torrey Pines athlete you already have a lot of pressure and responsibility,” she said. “You’re held above the standard. You have to be good in the classroom, good on the field. It’s part of the title.”

Original Article

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