By Cindy Landrum  

DECEMBER 6, 2011 9:21 a.m. Comments (1)

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As certified athletic trainer Joni Canter tended to two injured players during a South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind football practice, Ther Tee Vang was tackled during a drill.

He got up, and then collapsed.

Coaches called Canter over when Vang started to shake like he was having a seizure.

He stopped shaking.

But he stopped breathing as well.

“It was like time stood still,” said Canter, who is one of the certified athletic trainers assigned to 46 high schools and middle schools in Greenville and Spartanburg counties through Steadman Hawkins Sports Medicine, the community outreach program of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, at no cost to the schools.

While student trainer Jasmine Elleby ran to get a nearby automatic external defibrillator, Canter and the coaches worked to get the facemask off Vang’s helmet and to cut off his jersey, t-shirt and shoulder pads.

A shock from the defibrillator and two cycles of cardiopulmonary resuscitation got Vang’s heart beating again.

“If it weren’t for the school having Joni, he wouldn’t be here,” said Paul Eskew, Vang’s stepfather. “She’s our miracle worker.”

Canter said many people see athletic trainers on the sidelines of high school football games on Friday nights and think they tape athletes’ ankles and give them bags of ice.

“It’s so much more than that,” she said.

It costs Steadman Hawkins about $2 million a year to provide the service.

Last year, the trainers treated 217 concussions, 52 ACL tears, 189 fractures and 32 heart-related injuries of varying degrees. If the athletes’ families had received the same services at a hospital or therapy center, it would have cost them $1.55 million.

Dr. Franklin Sease, the medical director for Steadman Hawkins Sports Medicine, said half the trainers have master’s degrees, while the others have bachelor degrees in athletic training or sports medicine.

“The program is designed to give athletes access to somebody who can recognize people or situations at-risk,” he said. “It’s important to have someone who’s knowledgeable not only medically, but sports-wise. Sports are a big part of our culture.”

Vang said he remembers getting tackled, feeling dizzy and hurting a bit, but remembers nothing else until he woke up at Greenville Memorial Hospital. He was airlifted to Greenville from Spartanburg Regional.

“She is there all the time on the football field helping us. We’re glad to have her,” said Vang, who is partially deaf and spoke through an interpreter. “Joni was there to help and I thank her for saving my life.”

Eskew, who was at the hospital in Anderson because his oldest daughter was having a baby, was called by SCSDB Athletic Director Kim Speer.

Vang had a heart defect at birth but that had been repaired and the doctor released him from further monitoring when he was 12, Eskew said.

“The doctor said his heart was stronger than the last time he saw him when he was 12,” he said. “They think his heart just stopped.”

Vang has a pacemaker but otherwise shows no signs of that scary September afternoon.

“He’s a good, active kid. It’s amazing. If you would have seen the condition he was in after it happened, it’s amazing he’s back with no changes,” Eskew said.

Vang, a sophomore, has attended SCSDB since 2005, the same time Canter started working there as the school’s athletic trainer.

Vang played wide receiver and kicker.

He can no longer play contact sports so he’s looking into participating in other sports such as swimming. Speer said he’s a good athlete and has played on Special Olympics soccer teams, one of which won the national title and another that finished as runner-up.

He finished the football season as a manager.

“He’s our biggest cheerleader,” Speer said.

Canter said this was the first time she’s had to use an AED, only the second time she had to place an athlete on a backboard.

“When I first saw his belly stop moving up and down, I said, ‘Oh, no. This is not going to happen, not to me,’” she said. “This was the first time something like this has ever happened and I hope it’s the last.”

Canter said Vang is so active and full of energy.

“I just love the kid,” she said. “He’s priceless.”

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