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Monday, August 16, 2010

It works.

Another Save

GARNER -- Donnie Woods was watching a pickup basketball game at the Avery Street recreation center when a young man collapsed on the court.

It came without warning, said Woods, a part-time parks and recreation worker. Twenty-year-old Tristan Mason went down like a ton of bricks and appeared to have a seizure.

Woods hadn't taken a CPR class in years, but he had recently written a paper about cardiopulmonary resuscitation for an English class at Mount Olive College.

Woods says that research paper helped him save Mason's life. And the incident, which happened in June, has spurred the parks department to rethink how to prepare its staff for medical emergencies. From now on, all employees will be certified in CPR, and they will learn how to use a defibrillator, a device used to restart a heart that has stopped beating.

"It was very scary to see and be a part of, but I'm glad God saw fit for me to be there," said Woods, 39, of Clayton.

When Mason collapsed that day, Woods ran to him and placed his hand under his head, hoping he would stop seizing. But when Mason didn't come to, Woods recalled the research he had done about five months before: give two breaths and then perform chest compressions.

"It felt like forever," Woods said. "He did start breathing."

But not for long. When Mason stopped breathing again, Woods performed CPR two more times before medical workers arrived. In the midst of the chaos, Woods had yelled for someone to call 911.

"Obviously I was a nervous wreck," Woods said. "The rest of the night it weighed on my mind."

Woods drove to WakeMed that night and learned Mason was in critical condition.

Doctors told Mason he had an enlarged heart and implanted a pacemaker.

Before then, Mason said, he hadn't suffered any medical problems beyond asthma. He played basketball at Middle Creek High School for a while.

A few weeks after the incident,Mason returned to the rec center to see Woods.

"I didn't know what to say," Mason said. "He saved my life. All I could do was hug him."

Woods became certified in CPR when he began working for the department more than a decade ago, but the town didn't require him to get recertified.

What happened to Mason that day is a reminder that workers need to be ready for the unexpected, said Jack Baldwin, a program manager for the parks and recreation department.

"I think everyone should know," Mason said. "You never know when you'll have to do it."

Woods, a technician for a research company in Research Triangle Park, had handled medical issues at the rec center before. He has seen two people have seizures.

But Mason's situation was dire, and Woods knew it.

Mason said he will see a doctor again next month, and that's when he'll learn if he can start playing basketball again.

When he gets the go-ahead from doctors, Mason said, he will be back at Avery Street.

Woods will be there, mentoring kids and keeping an eye on pickup games. Woods has helped many young people at the center turn their lives around, Baldwin said.

"This is the life we know he saved, but there's probably been many others - if not saved, then changed,"Baldwin said.