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How a Coach and PE Teacher Saved This North Monterey County Alum's Life

How a coach and PE teacher saved this North Monterey County alum's life

North Monterey County High School faculty Austin Self (left), Jesus Galindo (middle) and Eli Tolentino (right) pose during the Condors' Alumni Game. Self and Galindo were honored during the second game of the night for helping save Tolentino's life. (Photo: Ayrton Ostly/The Californian)

Eli Tolentino doesn't remember anything past waking up in the morning on Sept. 18.

It was a cool, sunny morning in Castroville. As usual, North Monterey County High School had its gym open for pick-up basketball games. This Tuesday was no different than any other as alumni, students and community members alike played carefree games on the hardwood.

And Tolentino, a 2018 graduate of North Monterey County, was playing in one of the games as he had on a near-daily basis since graduation.

But thanks to quick action by key members on the court after he went into cardiac arrest, waking up that morning isn't his last memory.

'Nothing unusual'

Nothing was out of the ordinary that Tuesday morning. Players filed into the gym for pickup games and dribbled around the court in friendly matchups.

"It was just a normal day from what I've been told," Tolentino said.

During these games, players form their own squads and play 5-on-5 in either a half- or full-court games, depending on how many players. They'll agree on the winning point total and the value of each shot before tipping off.

From what he's heard since that day, Tolentino was performing the same as always. Basketball had been a part of his life for years and he was a regular at open gyms when not in class at Monterey Peninsula College.

That Tuesday, he cut to the basket, fired jumpers from outside the paint and kept pace on defense.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing unusual."

A game finished, and Tolentino started to feel a little off. He told some of the other participants he needed to sit down for a minute and strode over to one of the black and grey benches.

He never made it there. Tolentino collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

Later he'd learn that in that instant his heart had suffered a coronary artery spasm. A coronary artery spasm causes the arteries around the heart to tighten, which can prevent blood from going to the heart.

Brain damage from cardiac arrest can begin in a matter of minutes. Death or permanent brain damage takes four to six minutes.

This was now a life-or-death situation.

Critical intervention

Luckily for Tolentino, two of the players on the court included assistant boys' basketball coach Austin Self and PE teacher Jesus Galindo.

Self's known Tolentino for years after coaching his brother on multiple teams and him as well when he played for the Condors.

"I've known his brother since I was in middle school," Self said. "And then I coached him when he was a junior and senior in high school. I've got a good relationship with that kid."

He'd also worked as an EMT after graduating from North Monterey County in 2010. In a situation like this, he had to intervene.

"There's only one thing to do in that situation, which is to act," he said. "The worst thing you can do is nothing."

Both Self and Galindo had CPR training at the beginning of the school year. Galindo, a former basketball coach for the Condors, performed emergency resuscitation with him to keep Tolentino in the best condition possible until an ambulance arrived.

"We knew what to do, me and Galindo," he said. "All the professionalism really helped."

In a situation like this, especially with emergency medical crews coming to help, CPR is critical to keeping people alive. Only one in 10 people survive sudden cardiac arrest like this, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, but CPR can double the chances of survival.

"When the ambulance arrives, they have no idea what's happened to cause (cardiac arrest)," Self said. "Paramedics said early-onset CPR likely saved his life."

The duo had helped as much as they could. Tolentino was rushed to an emergency room and woke up later. His first memory from after cardiac arrest?

"My entire family there to greet me and welcome me back," he said.

Recovery and recognition

In the days after, the 18-year-old Tolentino recovered physically very easily. Recovering mentally was a different story.

"I felt really tired and just tried to get back to it," he said. "I don't feel like the same Eli but I'm working on getting back to that."

He's taken time off from classes at Monterey Peninsula College and now has a life vest with him. The small sling holds an AED (automated external defibrillator) in case he faces cardiac arrest again.

He was back at the gym last Friday for the North Monterey County Annual Alumni Games. The Games pit current Condor varsity players against a team of alumni. Self was on the bench with the former alongside head coach Patrick Kilty in the boys' game and Galindo played for the latter.

Self and Galindo were awarded plaques that thanked them for their life-saving actions before the boys' game.

"To see him walking and talking, it's just a blessing," Self said.

Tolentino echoed his sentiment.

"It's a blessing," he said. "I'm happy to be here."

This is another case where, Self said, someone knowing and acting to perform CPR helped save a life.

"(CPR training) is a two-hour class," he added. "Some places offer it for free. It's important to be prepared and if you can arm yourself with knowledge, it's a beautiful thing."

Story Credit: https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/sports/2018/11/20/how-10-minutes-cpr-saved-north-monterey-county-alums-life/2057657002/

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