Pendleton Coach Paul Sutherland and Hanna Player Clayton Pendergrass Discuss Heart Attacks
Four months ago Pendleton head football coach Paul Sutherland, 54, went into cardiac arrest on the sidelines of Cunningham Stadium at Pendleton High School after a game against Powdersville.
His heart attack was a gut-punch, that sucked away all of the excitement following a thrilling 50-43 high school football game. Icy silence filled a muggy September night.
That same feeling struck T.L. Hanna High School last month during a basketball scrimmage, when sophomore Clayton Pendergrass, 16, collapsed on the sideline, also from cardiac arrest.
Both Sutherland and Pendergrass lived through these harrowing episodes, and both are recovering thanks in large part to the presence of automated external defibrillators on site and trained medical personnel attending the games.
Dr. Satish Surabhi, a cardiologist at Anderson Area Medical Center, said AEDs and CPR were the biggest reasons the two are alive. A law passed in 2008 by the state Legislature required AEDs on school grounds.
Surahbi was part of the team at AnMed that treated Sutherland.
"It is critical in those first few minutes to get the heart restarted," he said. "The AED restores heart rhythm and gives time to get to the hospital."
Being able to resuscitate Sutherland and Pendergrass so quickly prevented brain damage, he said.
Sutherland said he believes it was no coincidence first-responders were at both places at both times.
"I don't think, as a Christian, there is such a thing as coincidence. There really is not," he said. "It was a very humbling experience, and I'm just thankful for everyone.
Sutherland and Pendergrass got together recently at the Independent Mail to talk about their shared experience of suffering a heart attack on the field of play and how the incidents have changed their lives.
"The last thing I remember was holding my wife Michelle's hand saying, 'I'm hurting,' " he said. "Next thing I knew I heard people talking. They had already shocked me once with the AED. I didn't feel it but it woke me up."
Sutherland equated it to getting up from a very peaceful rest.
"I felt the second one, and from then on I was alert."
The longtime Pendleton coach said doctors told him his heart attack was attributed to stress.
"They put a stent in that night to rest my heart until Monday, when they did the triple bypass. I was in the hospital for a week," he said. "I came home, and I have had zero problems since then. Recovery is ahead of schedule."
He said his wife has been his biggest pillar of support.
Michelle Sutherland said the experience has made her more vigilant of where AED machines are wherever they go, including La France Elementary School, where she is a reading coach.
"I'm more aware of where they are now at all times," she said. "Through it all, we have grown even closer together. We would go on walks a lot before, but we have found new enjoyment in them.
"We haven't had to change our diets too much. We both ate pretty healthy before, and he has always been big on exercise. It just put things in perspective. We don't sweat the small things."
She now plans to get trained as a first-responder.
"I just remember being on the sideline and not being able to do anything to help," she said. "I don't want to be caught in that type of situation again."
Pendergrass' heart attack revealed an underlying condition, long QT syndrome.
"I had never heard of that until that day," Clayton Pendergrass said. "It sounded like a foreign language. There were a lot of big doctor words."
Long QT syndrome is a disorder of the heart's electrical activity. It can cause sudden arrhythmia in response to exercise or stress, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heart.
Pendergrass said he's been prescribed beta-blocking medication to control the condition. The medication helps his heart valves to be better synchronized.
Ansley Pendergrass, Clayton's mother and coach of the Hanna girls soccer team, said they are awaiting test results to confirm the diagnosis.
"The doctors are pretty sure from his EKG test (he has long QT syndrome), but they wanted to make sure with the DNA test," she said. "Once we have that, we will be having a long discussion on the next step."
Long QT syndrome can't be fixed, Clayton Pendergrass said. But it can be managed.
Ansley Pendergrass was understandably thankful the AED was at the school and first-responders were in the crowd.
"They saved Clayton's life," she said. "Without them he would not be here."
She said she was not in the gym when her son was collapsed. She was picking up her other children from middle school and were on their way to the high school when it happened, she said.
"It was a scary moment and I was a mess," Ansley Pendergrass said.
Clayton Pendergrass still is on the Hanna basketball program and travels with the team, but he does not play.
"It meant a lot to be able to stay a member of the team, it kept a sense of normalcy," he said.
Ultimately, though, with more information in hand, he and his family will further evaluate his athletic future. Pendergrass said he does not know if he will play competitively again.
"My family and I will have a long talk at the dinner table," he said, his eyes reddening and voice cracking to hold back the emotion of the statement.
For Sutherland, too, the experience was frightening and new.
"You learn things you never thought you would," he said. "They have what they call an ejection-fraction number. A perfectly healthy heart has a number of 60.
"Six weeks after the surgery mine was between 55 and 60, and that was more than my family and I ever dreamed it would be."
Back at school, Sutherland works a shortened day from from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pendergrass has an AED with him as he walks the halls of Hanna. Both are back at the same place where their lives were saved, and forever changed.
"I know our public schools take a beating sometimes, but neither (Clayton) nor I could have been in a better place (to have our heart attacks)," Sutherland said. "It saved our lives."
Story Credit: https://www.independentmail.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/12/19/pendleton-coach-paul-sutherland-and-hanna-player-clayton-pendergrass-discuss-heart-attacks/940542001/