Yesterday, for the second time in just over two years, I came close to witnessing the death of someone close to me. Two years ago it was my father, 98 years old, who passed away of heart failure at a hospital in my presence. Though it was a difficult moment for me, I was glad to have spent the last several weeks with my him until his fragile health finally collapsed. When he lost consciousness, a team of doctors descended on his room. Against his written wishes, the team began CPR before the senior physician called a halt. His pulse was nil and his breathing never resumed despite their futile efforts. In a halting voice, I thanked the mostly young care providers for their sincere attempt to revive my father’s life. 

Yesterday was another matter. Four friends, all of us in our late sixties or early seventies, were playing doubles tennis at BSC Newton, on Wells Avenue, in the early afternoon. About forty-five minutes into the match, one of the players suddenly collapsed and fell backwards onto the court. At first we all thought that he was kidding around, as we sometimes do to keep things light. His partner, a retired physician, quickly grasped the danger. He dispatched one of us to summon the club trainers, all of them CPR-certified. I called 911 while the doctor administered compressions. Our friend, alas, was initially unresponsive and unconscious- he had no pulse.

In a moment several trainers rushed over with a defibrillator while the club manager went outside to guide the EMTs to the spot. As a high school tennis coach, I am also trained in CPR, but I was relieved to be an observer. Though the ambulance arrived reasonably promptly, even before they came, the trainers had begun administering electric shocks. Fortunately, though it took several attempts, my friend responded and resumed breathing. Slowly, his consciousness returned. Once he was stable if weak, the ambulance crew placed my friend on a cart and rolled him away to be transported to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. I followed him there a while later. 

When I arrived his two adult children and their step-mother were speaking with the attending. It turned out that one of his major arteries was blocked 100%! As our physician friend observed, it was fortunate that he was on a tennis court at a sports club with a skillful staff. Had this cardiac event occurred, say, overnight at home, then he might have died in his sleep without discovery until the morning. The crew at BSC Newton deserves praise for its prompt, efficient, and effective response to the life-threatening crisis.  

Another interesting thought: my friend had no history of heart problems. A few years ago he had undergone knee replacement surgery but recovered thanks to conscientious rehabbing and exercising. Most of us tennis veterans have had issues with our hips, knees, shoulders, or Achilles’ tendons. Over the years, however, I have known only one player to collapse after a match and pass away, and he was over 80 years old.

Let yesterday’s near-tragedy be a warning to Newton’s seniors who are athletes. All of us strive to stay in good shape, and we walk or bike or swim as well as work out on machines.  At a certain age, however, a cardiac event may occur despite our best efforts. We and our medical care providers must remain vigilant however healthy we may feel. When our new senior center opens, with an expanded program of yoga and exercise, well-trained instructors should be on hand. Yesterday, BSC Newton and the ambulance EMTs met the challenge and managed to save a life. Now begins a new round of rest and rehabilitation for my friend until, we hope, he returns to the courts for some doubles indoors and outdoors on the courts of Newton. 


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