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VIDEO: NEFC coaches respond quickly to save a player's life in face of dire medical emergency

By US Club Soccer, 08/12/19, 12:00PM EDT

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Players First | NEFC

MILLFORD, Mass | On June 19, what began as a regular practice for the NEFC 2003 NPL boys team quickly turned into a terrifying situation. Shortly into practice, 16-year-old Charlie Zwierzchowski started a goalkeeper drill with coach Jeff Causey, when he became delirious, collapsed and started seizing before becoming unable to breathe. Zwierzchowski then entered cardiac arrest and faced a disastrous and tragic outcome, if not for the immediate and precise response from NEFC coaches Causey, Tim Hallett and Jon Eckford.

With Zwierzchowski unable to breath and without pulse, Head Coach Hallett quickly jumped to his aid. He called for NEFC’s AED and administered CPR while Causey called for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kouta Ito, the father of a 15-U NEFC player, was in the parking lot waiting to pick up his son from the fields when he heard the commotion and began assisting Hallett with CPR. Zwierzchowski regained his breath and pulse, only to lose it for a second time prior to the coaches being able to use the AED. Immediately after applying the AED pads, the ambulance arrived, and first responders took over to shock Zwierzchowski with the AED, subsequently restoring his heart beat.

“Everybody came to the rescue and helped young Charlie out that night,” said Hallett. “We managed to call 911, we had an AED machine right on call, which we had to use. It was a very scary moment, but luckily, the first responders were amazing.”

Zwierzchowski was taken to a local hospital in Milford, then transferred to UMASS Medical Center, in Worcester. The next day, he was moved to Boston Children’s Hospital, where he would stay for six days before receiving clearance upon passing a stress test. In a remarkable display of the goalkeeper’s passion and dedication to the game, he was back on the field and competing at the 2019 ENPL National Finals and National Cup XVIII Finals in Denver alongside his teammates just a month later.

US Club Soccer commends NEFC – one of 75 Players First-licensed clubs in the country – for its urgent and effective response in the face of such an alarming emergency. NEFC’s thorough standards and practices prepared them for situations of this magnitude and ultimately saved a young man’s life.

“I’m really grateful that the club is so organized and prepared for this kind of incident,” stated Gerri Rubin, Charlie Zwierzchowski’s mother. “Charlie actually went into a cardiac arrest, and if they hadn’t taken action, he would’ve died. So, the fact that they had CPR training, had an AED on-site and Mendon Fire company is only two miles away, and they actually got there before the AED kicked on into action, and they were able to shock him and get him back to life… I’m forever grateful to NEFC and its staff.”

According to Rubin, the support Zwierzchowski and his teammates received from Hallett and the NEFC coaching staff was as impressive as their rapid actions on the field that day. “Tim Hallet exemplifies what a coach should be all about,” she added. “He trains them hard and is a fierce competitor, but he knows they are young men who each bring something special to the field and need to be developed as people first and foremost. His support of Charlie and our family has been outstanding. He visited him multiple times in the hospital. He face-timed Charlie into team meetings, pre-game talks and cheers when the boys went off to the ENPL National Playoff without him. He supported Charlie’s return to play, as long as the doctors thought it was safe… the outreach from all the NEFC coaching staff and players has been phenomenal.”

NEFC 2003 NPL, a New England Premiership member, co-captain Terence O’Neill echoed his teammates' support for the young athlete in his recovery. “Charlie unfortunately wasn’t able to go to regionals,” O’Neill said, “and that unified us even more, because we wanted to win for him, so he could go to nationals and help us compete for the national championship.”

“The AED machine was one basic bit of equipment that we really needed,” Hallett said. “Literally, once we got this whole Players First thing (NEFC was awarded Players First licensing in May), it was put in three weeks before it happened.”

Players First licensing is awarded to clubs that commit to – and provide evidence of their efforts – fostering the proper structure to help youth athletes thrive. Player Health & Safety is US Club Soccer’s most important responsibility to its members, and as such, has implemented a few key measures in its registration process for all staff and coaches: Sideline Sports Doc online injury recognition training, SafeSport online training and enhanced background screening. The Sideline Sports Doc course includes a chapter on the “SAFE Method” – an initial evaluation of on-field injuries – that help coaches recognize what the first step should be in aiding an athlete.

“One thing I’m just thankful for is the response and then the care I got at the hospitals I went to, and that I was able to get back into it to make it to both tournaments in Colorado,” said Zwierzchowski. “I’m so grateful for that, and especially for my coach.”

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