At the Heart of a High School Baseball Game
Elijah was hit in the chest with a fast ball. His heart stopped beating. His coaches couldn’t find a pulse. Today, Elijah’s motto is “Be happy and always live life to the fullest.”
On April 22nd in Central Park at Field #3 New York City’s public high school baseball team the ICE Polar Bears were playing the School of the Future. It was the top of the fifth inning in a good game; the score was still tied zero to zero.
The ICE Polar Bears’ Freshman Elijah Newman, 15 of Prospect Lefferts Manor, Brooklyn, was up to bat at the plate. He had already made a good catch in the game helping to save the opposing team from scoring a run. But he didn’t know that it was the coaches who were about to be the ones to do the saving.
His coach gave him the bunt sign and the pitch came in but Elijah never made it to first base. The pitch came in high and inside hitting Elijah on the left side of his chest, directly upon his heart at the exactly worst possible microsecond of time. While his heart was getting ready to start another heartbeat cycle the force of the baseball interrupted his heart’s normal electrical heart rhythm putting Elijah’s heart into a dangerous abnormal heartbeat or arrhythmia. He walked a few steps toward first base after being hit by the fast pitch but then he collapsed. His eyes rolled back into his head, and his skin turned very pale.
Elijah’s heart stopped beating. His coaches couldn’t find a pulse. Elijah was not breathing. He experienced Commotio Cordis, a rare phenomenon in which a blunt force hit to the chest can cause sudden cardiac arrest.
His ICE Polar Bears Head Coach Mark Mazzone started CPR immediately, with Assistant Coach Michael Hills, while the other opposing team’s Head Coach Christopher McCloud grabbed the team’s automated-external defibrillator (AED). Right away the umpires, Andrew and Ernie, asked a parent to call 9-1-1. The coaches were required by the PSAL high school to be trained in first-aid, CPR, and AED and also bring an AED to the game. Thankfully, they were ready to respond rapidly to an emergency like this – one that they never imagined would ever happen.
After one round of CPR, one shock of the AED, and another round of CPR, “he was back” says Head Coach Mazzone. Elijah came back to life gasping for air thanks to the quick, lifesaving work of the coaches.
Elijah was one of the lucky ones. He beat the odds and showed up to The Mount Sinai Hospital Emergency Room on the Upper East Side nearby Central Park’s baseball fields.
“He arrived to the Mount Sinai ER perfectly fine,” says one of his Emergency Room treating doctors Jeffrey Glassberg, MD. “The baseball to the chest hit him at the exact spot and microsecond in the rhythm of his heart beat to stop his heart. If coaches hadn’t done CPR and shocked him with an AED within a few minutes, he may not have survived.”
“It felt like a dream. I remember blacking out as I tried to walk to first base,” says Elijah. “When I woke up I was gulping for air, and it felt like every breath was like a fight.”
“We were able to save him, and we are 100 percent relieved that Elijah is okay,” says Coach Mazzone. “An experience like this really make’s you take a step back. It’s not about winning baseball games, it’s really about the kids. Without our specialized training, I don’t want to think what would have happened. Every baseball league young and old, needs to be trained in CPR and bring an AED to practice and the game. AEDs should be present at all athletic events for any sport at any age, not just baseball.”
“The coaches' training and their AED made the difference,” says Rob Newman, Elijah’s father.
“I don’t know how to thank the coaches for saving my life. I am very thankful for them,” says Elijah. Upbeat Elijah at the Mount Sinai Emergency Room was cracking jokes: “I was safe at first base, right?” Also, he kindly called the opposing pitcher from the ER to tell him it wasn’t his fault, not to worry, and that he was okay in the hospital.
“All the credit goes to his amazing coaches who were the first responders on the field. They took rapid action and performed the appropriate interventions that saved his life. They started chest compressions within the first minute and knew to call for the AED which they used appropriately. The outcome would have been quite different and tragic if not for the fast response of these men,” says Elijah’s attending pediatric cardiologist Miwa K. Geiger, MD at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “We only assessed him in the ER after the resuscitation. We made sure his heart was squeezing normally after the event and then admitted him for observation in the Pediatric ICU. His coaches remained with him in the ER for hours making sure he was okay.”
“This is a miraculous story,” says Barry Love, MD, Director of the Pediatric Arrhythmia program at Mount Sinai who also cared for Elijah. “Commotio Cordis occurs about 50-75 times a year in the United States. It used to be uniformly fatal. We now know that early defibrillation is lifesaving. With better access to defibrillators, the survival is improving considerably in the community.”
“Every sports team needs an AED, hands down,” says Elijah.
Elijah, his parents, and his coaches urge everyone to learn CPR and for greater access and funding for AED technology to be available for all athletic sporting events including little league baseball teams where they are currently not legally required as they are in the Public School Athletic League which helped save Elijah’s life. Dr. Love says, “Personal stories like Elijah’s hit home. My young sons played baseball 4 days after Elijah’s event on the exact same Central Park field. I told Elijah’s story to the coach and they are going to get a defibrillator for the team now.”
“We don’t want this to happen to other kids,” says Nurit Newman, Elijah’s mother. “We are very fortunate and we want to make sure that Elijah's experience serves as a wake up call for others. ”
“Elijah is alive not because one person was trained in CPR/AED, but because many were,” says Coach Mazzone. “The bottom line is, the more adults who are trained in CPR/AED the more likely it is that we can prevent something tragic happening again in the future.”
“I am so grateful for the doctors, coaches, and baseball players who helped me—but also listening to music has really helped me through this—especially the Grateful Dead,” says Elijah.
Also, wise Elijah has another strong message for young athletes like him and the public: “Always have fun, and always try to make a bad situation better. Remember, life is too short to not be happy. Be happy and always live life to the fullest.“