22OCT

More than words

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Many people don’t get to acknowledge first responders. But the parent of an injured rugby player made the time.

It was a thumping tackle and the rugby player went down, hard.

The rules say that medical teams need to wait for a stoppage in play before coming onto the field, but Tao Carstens’ instincts vetoed those on the spot. There was something not quite right about the how the Western Province U21 player fell, about how he lay.

The paramedic and her partner, Zach, sprinted onto the field in the middle of the game. A split-second decision. An intuition that straddled life and death.

When they reached the player, Tao’s worst fears were confirmed. The young man had no pulse and was not breathing.

This doesn’t happen very often. Sure, rugby could be a dangerous sport, and there are always injuries – concussions or broken bones – but it’s extremely rare for a player to go into cardiac arrest after a tackle.

But there was no time to rue the odds. If Tao’s instincts were what rushed her to the critically injured player, now her training took over.

Race against time

As she performed CPR with the mechanical, methodical calm that only years of training and muscle memory can bestow, Tao knew that it was a race against time. The player was moved from the field to the clinic, and it was only there – after several minutes of continuous CPR – that they got him back. A pulse. A breath.

A minor miracle.

“CPR is very controlled and methodical,” says Tao. “But as soon as you get a pulse, it’s this sudden rush. It’s controlled chaos as you’re rushing to get the patient to the hospital. It’s just people running around, working as a team, doing what needs to be done as quickly as possible.”

A week after the incident, Tao called the hospital to find out how the patient was doing, and it was only when she heard the news that he was up and about that the full realisation of her achievement really hit home.

“When I found out that he was stable and talking, that’s when the shock set in,” says Tao. “That’s when you realise, ‘Hang on a minute. We won this one.’ That’s when the surprise comes in. And it warms your heart like you wouldn’t believe.

“We all love the adrenaline rush of the high speed and going through red robots. But that adrenaline rush has nothing on the high that you feel after saving a life. Nothing could have broken my mood on that day. And I think that nothing did for about a week after that.”

No words

As far as Tao was concerned, it was case closed. But fate had other plans. About a year later, Tao got a call from the event manager of that fateful day in Newlands. The father of the rugby player that Tao saved had called. He wanted to meet the paramedic who had brought his son back from the dead.

A meeting was arranged at Newlands between the father and his son and the resuscitation team where Tao not only spoke but walked the group through the events of the day. This is where you son’s heart stopped beating. Here is where it started again…

Towards the end of the day, the father said, “I’ve spent an entire year thinking about how to thank you. But now that I am standing here in front of you I have no words. Thank you is not enough.”

While the very fact that the father had reached out after all this time was acknowledgement enough for Tao, it is all too rare for these sorts of things to happen. This is understandable to some extent. People do not want to dwell on incidents that involve paramedics, and often simply they are in no state to either remember them or thank them at the time so it is the doctors at the hospital that get the acknowledgement and gratitude.

Perhaps everyone should take a leaf from the book of this rugby player’s father. Spare a thought for those who were there for you when you did not have a thought to spare.

Read the original story and watch the video of Daniel Du Plessis’ here.

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