Chris Warner, the athletic trainer at Hawthorne High School, had been carrying the AED, which weighs about 6 pounds, ever since he went to then athletic director Barry Cohen and told him the school needed one.
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“It cost about $2,200,” Warner said. “I think the booster club bought it for us.”
And it went unused for nine years.
Until the night of Oct. 17 when Hawthorne hosted Glen Rock in a key game in the race for the NJIC Colonial Division title.
Jake McMahon the Survivor
Midway through the game, McMahon told coach Paul Cusack that he wasn’t feeling well and Cusack told him to “take a knee.”
Instead, McMahon collapsed to the field.
“As a spectator, you’re watching the flight of the ball,” Pete McMahon said.
“I didn’t see him go down.”
But as soon as he realized his son was on ground, he jumped a fence to run in from the sideline as Debra ran down from the stands and Warner drove over in his equipment-laden golf cart.
“Obviously, it was a very chaotic scene,” said Warner, a trainer at Hawthorne for 15 years.
“He was unresponsive. It’s something you’re trained for but you never know how you’re going to react.”
With the help of three off-duty nurses who came down from the stands and police officers who responded almost immediately, Warner had McMahon hooked up to the AED, a device that monitors a patient’s heart and prompts the user to administer a lifesaving shock if needed.
McMahon was shocked three times while lying on the field that night.
“I was in shock,” said Debra McMahon, who was standing right there with her husband watching. “This is your son. You don’t want to take your eyes off him.”
“It’s not something you want to see, especially when you’re talking about a kid who is physically in great shape,” Warner said. “It makes it harder. The moment that voice told me that a shock was advised is a moment I will never forget.”
McMahon’s pulse returned after the third shock and he was stabilized and transported with an escort by the Hawthorne police to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson.
“They iced him down in the ambulance on the way to the hospital which they said was a new protocol when this happens in young people,” said Pete McMahon, who rode in the ambulance with his son.
“He fought everything they wanted to do.”
Pete McMahon felt better that his son had some fight in him.
Doctors at the hospital placed Jake McMahon in a medically induced coma.
He woke up two days later.
“I took a deep breath,” Debra McMahon said.
“He didn’t know what he was doing there. He still doesn’t remember playing in the game.”
Less than a week after the incident, McMahon was out of the hospital and looking ahead, wondering when he would be able to get on his snowboard and put on his lacrosse uniform for the Panthers. He returned to school 11 days later, attending the rest of the soccer team’s practices and traveling with them for the remainder of the season.
“He loves to compete,” Pete McMahon said. “He just eats it up.”
“The first time he went to soccer practice, the football team cheered him,” Debra McMahon said. “He doesn’t really want to be reminded of it. All he cares about is when can he play the next sport.”
But that’s still up in the air.
And despite test after test, the doctors still can’t tell the family why it happened in the first place.
“I think he’s accepted it extremely well,” Pete McMahon said. “I think we’re all just waiting for a definitive diagnosis.”
In the meantime, the McMahons reflect on the string of coincidences that played into their son’s favor that night.
For starters, the game was played at night rather than in the afternoon when there likely would not have been as many spectators to come out of the stands and help.
Second was the quick arrival of a paramedic unit that just happened to be in the area of Hawthorne High School when the call came in.
Third was the response of the doctors and nurses at St. Joseph’s.
“Everything that needed to be done from A to Z was done, and done well,” Pete McMahon.
Finally, the McMahons are grateful that a AED was available right on the sideline just seconds away.
“Before this, we didn’t even know what an AED was,” said Debra McMahon, who, with her husband, has signed up to take a CPR course with training in the use of an AED.
“It’s the first time I ever used one,” Warner, the trainer, said. “And I hope I never have to use it again.”
AEDs are becoming almost as ubiquitous as fire extinguishers in public buildings, particularly school buildings since Governor Christie signed Janet’s Law.
The law, requiring school districts to place AEDs in every school building and “in reasonable proximity to gyms and athletic fields” by next September, is named for Janet Zilinski, an 11-year-old from Warren, who died from SCA following cheerleading practice in 2006.
“It’s very user-friendly,” Warner said. “It leads you through the process, telling you what to do and when to do it.”
The Hawthorne school district has an AED at every school as well as the one Warner carries. According to the Glen Rock school district website, the district has 17 AEDs on its property, including one for the trainer and four that can be put directly into the hands of coaches. There are 12 more on borough property, particularly athletic fields.
“There is a reason we got the outcome that we did,” Pete McMahon said. “If this spurs one or two parents with a child playing sports to ask where the AED is and how it’s used, that’s what I want to see come out of this.
“This is the story of one that saved a kid’s life,” he continued. “It doesn’t get more powerful than that.”