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The City Journals

Softball coach deflects attention from life-saving efforts as Huskies start season 2-0

Apr 26, 2021 10:52AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High’s softball team huddles at their recent pregame against Juan Diego Catholic High, where the Huskies had 16 runs in their win. (Photo courtesy of AnnDrea Ricci)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was the day after softball tryouts.

First-year Hillcrest High head coach Ashley Anjewierden was excited about the 10 freshmen and sophomores who “show a lot of promise” and have combined to make a team with 16 juniors and seniors, many of those being returning players.

“We have some pitchers now who can give a lot of support to (returning pitcher and junior) Maddie Sluga, who hasn’t had a lot of support in previous years,” Anjewierden said, adding that she expected the team to “be on our game” against East, Cottonwood and Murray in region play.

While Anjewierden has been an assistant with the Huskies for the past five years, she has preached to them to “practice hard to play hard,” and had them practice their power hitting and bunting. Unexpectedly to the team, she then left practice a few minutes before it was scheduled to conclude at 7 p.m. 

As she left, she heard the assistant coach ask the girls, “Do you know how cool your coach is?” 

Then, the assistant coach told the girls that Anjewierden, along with others at Mt. Jordan Middle School where she teaches health and PE, recently saved a sixth-grader’s life and was to be honored at the March 2 Canyons Board of Education meeting.

Sixth-grader Stephen Allen has CPVT—a rare, life-threatening heart disorder that is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm. As his heart rate increases in response to physical activity or strong emotions, it can trigger an abnormally fast heartbeat and fainting can be a common first sign.

Weeks earlier, on Feb. 11, Stephen was walking to his next class, PE, when he collapsed in the main hallway of the school. Fortunately, his mother had made the staff aware of his life-threatening heart disorder and they had a plan, which was sprung into action.

Hall monitor Kami Ottoman happened to be behind him and radioed for help. She stayed with him even though he was nonresponsive. Principal Matt Watts jumped into action, making his way to the student to provide aid. Head secretary Kim Mitchell called 911 while attendance secretary Amy Beardon identified the student and pulled his healthcare plan. Office aide Brenda Castillo called his mother, who was able to get to the school before he was taken away with the paramedics. 

Anjewierden, who is Stephen’s PE teacher, realized Stephen hadn’t made it to class and bolted down the hallway. Anjewierden had been an EMT for a few years prior to teaching and relied upon her training. 

“I knew immediately he would need an AED and Kami got it,” she said about the automated external defibrillator, a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. “I applied the first shock within two-and-one-half minutes of Stephen going down. I began (chest) compressions when I recognized he didn’t have a pulse.”  

After 90 compressions, he was grasping for breath on his own, but the AED, which gives instructions on application, said to apply a second shock. At that time, school nurse Angela Despain arrived and nodded to proceed, backing up Anjewierden’s instincts and what was heard from the AED.

“That second shock got his heart back into rhythm and then paramedics arrived,” she said about the entire process that lasted less than seven minutes. “It was all instinct. It went by so fast.”

Anjewierden was thankful she had her EMT training—some of the same training in first aid and CPR she provides students in her health classes. 

“I’ve told my students that it can happen to anyone at any time, and it did. I’ve never had to use it at this level before, but by having the knowledge, it has come in handy as a coach, working in youth activities, sports and school. The most extreme I’ve had before this was sprains and broken legs,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve done compressions. I’ve only practiced before on a mannequin, but I just knew when to do it and when to stop. I knew it needed to be perfect to save his life.”

As a token of the Board’s gratitude, Anjewierden received a signed AED device.

While all Canyons schools have AEDs and staff are provided annual training, Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney said that only 17% of schools and government offices have AEDs. He also said that survival rate is fewer than 10% of the about 360,000 people who have Emergency Medical Services-assessed cardiac arrests outside of a hospital setting.

Anjewierden later heard that the girls were “surprised and proud” of her actions, but quickly turned the attention back to the team, which stands on top of the region with two preseason wins, 16-1 over Juan Diego Catholic High and 21-11 over Providence Hall.

“We are really excited to start off with a win,” Anjewierden said.