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Nathan Broderick, an 18-year-old with a congenital heart condition, was playing hooky with three friends; the four seniors went to Nathan’s house the morning of Friday, Nov. 15, where they goofed off, raided the refrigerator and played video games.
Nathan was standing in front of the TV, controller in hands, navigating a virtual world, when he collapsed. Nathan’s friend Cody Ridge jumped to his side, turned him on his back and checked for a pulse. “Call 911,” Cody instructed the other friends, Tyler and Marcus.
Cody found no pulse so he began chest compressions. For the next seven minutes, Cody kept his friend alive with CPR, stopping just once to talk to emergency medical services on the phone (Tyler took over while he was on the phone). When the paramedics arrived, “they were surprised,” Cody said, “that we had kept him breathing the whole time.”
Later, one of the paramedics on the scene told Nathan’s mom, Raegan Broderick, that Nathan was receiving “good compressions” when they arrived; she wanted Raegan to know that “’those boys were doing a really good job.’”
Nathan has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left half of his heart never fully developed, so it wasn’t totally unusual that he collapsed.
“It’s very common for these kids and young adults [with hypoplastic left heart syndrome] to develop arrhythmias,” said Nathan’s cardiologist at Children’s Colorado, Joseph Kay, M.D.
Though, according to Raegan, his friends texted her that Nathan was, “Perfect ‘til he collapsed.”
But in any other situation, Nathan might not have survived.
Raegan likes to recount the number of “little miracles” that lined up that day to save her son’s life: the family later learned that most of the educators at his high school do not know CPR and even if they had, in a classroom setting, they might not have immediately noticed a student slumped in his desk. It was a lucky coincidence his friends witnessed Nathan’s fall, and of all his friends to be with him, it was Cody who knew CPR. In fact, before that day, Cody told Nathan that he would save him if he ever needed it.
From Nathan’s home in Ft. Collins, the paramedics took him to Poudre Valley Hospital (another stroke of luck: one of the ER physicians was familiar with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and knew how to treat Nathan properly) then transferred him to Children’s Hospital Colorado on Anschutz Medical Campus via helicopter.
Once Nathan arrived at Children’s Colorado, he underwent a series of life-saving treatments and procedures. Doctors opted to treat him with therapeutic hypothermia, where they cool his core body temperature to between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius, in order to slow bodily processes that could cause brain damage. The process takes 24 to 48 hours, in which time the patient’s loved ones must wait, not knowing if he will wake up and/or if he will have neurological damage.
“Honestly, it seemed like a 50/50 chance he’d make it,” Cody said. Raegan plodded through the next few days, prematurely grieving for her son while simultaneously mustering hope, faith and strength. “As a parent, you’re searching for any kind of answer, any kind of sign,” Raegan remembers. “We didn’t know what was going to happen when he woke up…I kept thinking, ‘My child’s going to be completely brain dead.’”
Raegan prayed while Nathan underwent the cooling procedure, and finally, after days of waiting for any news, the caregivers showed her Nathan’s brain MRI: minimal brain damage. “It was the best news I’d had in five days,” Raegan said. Over the next few days, Nathan made small improvements: he went from whispering to talking, from moving his limbs to walking, from a short-term memory of two minutes to five.
Since November, Nathan has recovered, and underwent a novel procedure that should prevent this from happening again. On Jan. 17, 2014 Nathan was the fourth patient in Colorado to receive a subcutaneous lead, a permanent defibrillator implanted in the skin, and the first patient with a congenital heart defect to receive it (previously, implanting a permanent defibrillator would have required open heart surgery).
Several Children’s Colorado’s nationally-ranked physicians and nurses spent hours keeping Nathan alive, but, Raegan points out, none of their expertise mattered without Cody, the 18-year-old who learned CPR in Boy Scouts.
“I wanted the boys to know they were my heroes,” Raegan said. “I could not imagine being a senior in high school and watching one my friends collapse…If they wouldn’t have done what they did those first seven minutes, he wouldn’t even have had a chance.”
“Had Nathan not been with his friends who started CPR when he went down, even if he survived, he would have had severe brain damage,” said Dr. Kay.
Cody doesn’t really see himself as a hero – he was worried about the repercussions of skipping school – but Nathan is forever thankful. “My friends saved my life,” Nathan said, looking at Cody in his hospital room, then shaking his head at the thought of what could have happened. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Cody and Nathan will graduate from high school in Fort Collins in spring 2014; Nathan plans to attend Front Range Community College to pursue a career in medicine and Cody will either attend the University of Colorado Boulder or Colorado State University, where he’d like to pursue studies in “something related to being outside.”
The friends have one message for the public: “learn CPR.”
On Feb. 7, 2014, Cody and Marcus both received Citizen Life Saving awards from the Poudre Valley Fire Authority.