For Nwankwo, a New Way of Life

"I was confused. I'm a good athlete in great condition, great stamina. Why was this happening to me?", said Davis Nwankwo after his collapse. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NASHVILLE Davis Nwankwo's 248-pound body hit the floor headfirst with a sickening thud. Vanderbilt's basketball practice on March 6 was routine until that moment during four-on-four drills. Nwankwo's 13 teammates and four coaches froze.

From the baseline, athletic trainer Mike Meyer witnessed Nwankwo's collapse and sprinted to the player's side near the three-point arc and turned the 6-foot-10 sophomore over, onto his back. The 19-year-old from College Park, who starred at Georgetown Prep, wasn't breathing. He had no pulse. A two-inch gash from the fall had opened just above his left eyebrow.

Meyer ordered an assistant coach to call 911. He directed a student trainer to get the automatic external defibrillator from the training room in the tunnel of Memorial Gymnasium. He demanded that the other players head for the locker room. Meyer knew they wouldn't want to see what might happen next.

Nwankwo's heart had stopped and needed to get restarted.

With Coach Kevin Stallings beside him, Meyer cut open Nwankwo's practice jersey. As he did, Nwankwo started convulsing. While his body rattled, Nwankwo began foaming at the mouth.

"Mike, we can't lose him," Stallings said. "We can't lose him."

"I'm doing all I can," Meyer said.

Meyer promptly affixed the AED's two electrodes to Nwankwo's chest. Within seconds, the machine recognized the lifeless heart and gave it a jolt. Meyer administered one rescue breath. Nwankwo didn't respond.

Meyer gave another breath. By that time, the shock from the AED had awoken the heart, and Nwankwo took the next breath on his own. About six minutes after Nwankwo collapsed, paramedics arrived, lifted him onto a stretcher and took him to Vanderbilt Medical Center's emergency room.

Less than 48 hours later, Nwankwo sat awake in his hospital bed with his parents, Adam and Ifeyinwa, and five doctors beside him. He was told three things that would change his life:

ยท He had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that ultimately restricts the flow of oxygen to the heart. It afflicts 1 in 500 people, according to the American Heart Association, and is the leading cause of sudden death among young athletes.

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