When Wayne State College’s head athletic trainer, Dr. Muffin Morris, travels with a team, her main concerns center around protecting Wildcat players from injuries and helping them get physically ready to compete.
Recently, Morris took part in a rather unusual activity, one that athletic trainers don’t see very often — she helped save a life.
Morris has been Wayne State’s head athletic trainer for 10 years and has been on countless road trips, but nothing like the one she experienced during the basketball teams’ visit to Marshall, MInn. on New Year’s Eve.
In the second half of the men’s game between Wayne State and Southwest Minneosta State referee Jeff Schroeder was running up the court during a fast break when he took two steps and fell to the floor, suffering a heart attack in front of the Southwest bench.
At first, Morris thought the referee had tripped, but quickly realized it was something more important.
“Watching the game, at first I thought maybe he’d got tangled up with a player, and their athletic trainer was there and then you look and see he’s not moving, so I went down there to see what I could do,” she said in a phone interview Friday during the team’s road trip to Northern State.
Southwest’s head trainer, Laura Crowell, and men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler were the first to get to Schroeder. Before long, Morris and two other trainers were at the scene.
“I remember somebody yelling for 911, and you just zone in on what’s happening then,” she said.
Luckily, Bigler’s brother-in-law, a doctor from Nashville, Tenn.; and his godmother, a nurse, were in the stands and came out to help out. Schroeder coded and the team of medical professionals soon began doing CPR and brought in an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) that was stationed courtside to help bring Schroeder back to life.
“It took a team effort, and we were fortunate to have a physician in the stands who was able to help out,” Morris said.
Being a part of a life-saving moment in the middle of a sporting event is something Morris had not experienced in more than a decade of work as an athletic trainer, and it was definitely a moving experience for her.
“It was definitely an eye-opener, and it was the first time I’d seen somebody code where you have to give CPR,” she said. “There were times I’d look over at (the Wayne State bench) to see if everybody was OK, but in that split second, right now, I have to help this person.”
Schroeder was revived and taken to a hospital, where he had open-heart surgery and is now back home near Sioux Falls and recovering from the experience.
For Morris, it was a chance to use her training, but also gave her an opportunity to make sure that, in the event something similar were to happen at Rice Auditorium or one of the other athletic venues on the Wayne State College campus, she and her staff are prepared.
“We do have an emergency action plan for each venue, and my staff and Mike Barry are always updated on that,” she said. “It still makes you take a step back, though, to think about what you’re doing and make any needed changes. You never want to have this type of situation happen, but you have to be prepared for it.”
The school has AED machines available at each location, as well as the school’s weight room, and Morris said she makes sure her staff knows where they are located because, as this experience proved, it can make all the difference when it comes to saving someone’s life.
“Having access not only to people who do CPR, but know how to use the AED, was critical in saving Jeff’s life,” she said.
After the game, Morris talked with a few players who had been a little shaken by what they had witnessed, and there was some talk about it in the school’s training room in the days after they returned to Wayne.
“I reached out to some of the kids individually and we talked about it,” she said. “It got brought up a few times in the training room when we got back and we were able to let them know he’d had surgery and everything went well, so that helped us bring some closure to it.”
She also exchanged texts with Crowell the following weekend as the two trainers wished each other well.
“Laura and I are pretty good friends, and that following Friday we texted each other and wished each other good luck,” she said.
She said that a number of kids talked to her about learning about CPR, and she said it’s probably one of the most valuable life-saving tools anyone can learn to use in an effort to help save a life.
“No matter what you’re going to do, it’s one of the biggest tools you should learn because you never know when it will happen,” she said. “If you have a chance to learn about CPR and using an AED, I’d do it, and facilities who have an AED on site can really help save lives.”