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Alum Advice: How to Keep Calm While Saving a Life

Athletic trainer Chely Arias’ quick actions on a high school ball field turned a harrowing scene into a happy ending.

People  |  Apr 12, 2018  |  By Matt Jacob
woman with AED

Just two months into her job as an athletic trainer, UNLV alumna Chely Arias saved a student's life. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

When Chely Arias arrived for work at Cheyenne High School on the afternoon of Oct. 24, the young athletic trainer was expecting just another day at the office. You know, taping ankles, stretching hamstrings, and rehabbing the usual strains suffered by high school athletes.

Certainly, given that she was just two months into her first full-time job, Arias, ’16 BS Athletic Training and BS Kinesiology, never envisioned that particular day would end with her being celebrated for saving a young girl’s life. Yet that’s precisely what happened.

Now, some six months later, the 25-year-old Arias reflects on how her hours of training prepared her to take decisive action — and why her experience should remind us all to learn basic life-saving skills. After all, nobody knows when an otherwise ordinary day might turn extraordinary.

That day, I had a couple of kids in my training room getting taped, doing their stretches. Another athlete came into the room and said, “Hey, a girl just fainted on the baseball field!” When I got to [the victim], I saw that her vitals weren’t there — she wasn’t breathing, had no pulse, and wasn’t responsive. I called her name several times and said, “If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” There was nothing. I told one of the coaches to call 911, I sent a student to get the AED (automated external defibrillator) and I started CPR.

Obviously, you have doubts in a situation like that. Even when I was doing CPR, I was thinking, “Am I doing this right?” We practice [CPR] over and over and over again, but it’s on mannequins. This was my first time administering CPR on an actual human being. So it was muscle memory. I was like, “OK, I know how to do this. So just do it.”

I administered CPR for about two or three minutes before the AED arrived. I'd already cut her shirt so I could quickly apply the paddles. I shocked her and continued CPR. Finally, on the third shock, the AED read a pulse. She still wasn’t responsive, and it wasn’t a strong pulse, but it was something.

From the time I got there until the time EMS arrived was 11 minutes. Anything in between that, I couldn’t tell you much, because to a certain extent, I drew a blank. I was just so focused on her. When EMS arrived, I remember being mentally exhausted. They unhooked the AED and took her blood pressure and pulse, then transported her to the hospital.

The girl’s parents got there before the paramedics did. But I just blocked them out. Sometimes in a situation as serious as this, if the parents are there, they want to jump in and take over. But they were good enough to stand back and let me do what I had to do, and I think that’s what helped make this a successful story and not a tragedy.

That night, I didn’t sleep. I was constantly thinking, “What could I have done differently? Could I have gotten there faster? What would’ve happened if I didn’t have the AED?” I had all these thoughts going through my mind. But I realized, “OK, if this ever happens again, I wouldn’t mind it going exactly as it did.”

Stuff like this usually happens to people who are close to us. That’s why it’s important to know how to do CPR. And anyone can be CPR-certified. It’s just a matter of getting educated and being ready to do it in the moment. That’s the one thing I want to stress: Learn the basics. They’ll get you a long way.

Going through something like this so early in my career definitely wasn’t something I expected. I remember thinking afterward, “Guys, I just got here. I understand you want to give me work, but let me warm up first!”

I work for a company called Select Physical Therapy. It is contracted by the Clark County School District to hire and place athletic trainers in high schools. I’m now at Arbor View High School, where I’m back to taping ankles, dealing with sprained ankles and broken bones. I'd rather [deal with] a fractured ankle or a dislocated elbow​ — whatever the injury may be — than have someone's heart stop beating again.

A week or two went by and I went to visit the student. By that time, she seemed to be doing fine. The doctors hadn’t found a reason for her cardiac arrest. Now that I’ve moved to another school, I hope that she remembers me. Because I’ll definitely remember her.