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Garfield Teen Recounts Terrifying Moment on Soccer Field

Garfield teen recounts terrifying moment on soccer field

Garfield freshman Gabriela Kozial, front right, collapsed at soccer practice September 5 and was revived thanks to the quick work of soccer coach Lynette Messina, left, and Aaron Kahn. (Photo: Darren Cooper)

GARFIELD — Gabriela Koziol plays goalie, but when she needed the ultimate save, her Garfield family was there.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Koziol, a tall, athletic, 14-year-old freshman explained what happened to her at soccer practice Sept. 5 when she collapsed to the grass suddenly.

“We were sprinting from the goal line to the other goal line and I stopped,” said Koziol in a delicate voice. “We finished and I got real dizzy. I started walking and I just fell back.”

The last thing she remembers is her teammate’s scream.

“I went into cardiac arrest.”

Garfield assistant coach Aaron Khan was working with Koziol and the Boilermakers' other goalie. He sent them on their sprint and turned around to retrieve some soccer balls from a nearby bag.

He heard the yell of Koziol’s teammate and saw her collapse.

“I have never run that fast in my life,” Khan said.

Boilermakers head coach Lynette Messina came running over too. She began to perform CPR. A long-time lifeguard, Messina knew maintaining regular compressions was the most important thing to do, even though this was the first time she’d ever been called upon to perform the task.

“I got the AED on her, and right after that, I did 30 compressions and the cops were there, and then [policeman] Danny Pozo did 30 [compressions] and after that, we had a pulse,” Messina said.

Koziol remembers being loaded into the ambulance, but not much more.

A final diagnosis has yet to come. The likeliest scenario is just arrhythmia, but doctors are also doing genetic testing. Her older sister, Carolina, has also had heart issues. Koziol gets emotional talking about it.

There are so many heroes in this story. A Garfield player threw Khan a cell phone so he could call 911. The field where the team was practicing was right next to the police station in Garfield, so the officers, Pozo and Will Houck were there almost instantly.

Garfield principal Dora D’Amico praised Khan for his quick response and the fact that Messina had the AED (automated external defibrillator) on the field nearby. She’s nicknamed the device “Freddie.”

“I am just so thankful for everyone,” D’Amico said. “There are protocols in place, and all those protocols were followed, the equipment was functioning, the coaches were trained, the timing, the police …. She’s meant to be here. We are super thankful everything turned out so well.”

Koziol had never played an organized sport growing up in Garfield. She has been a dancer since she was nine, but her father, Zbygniew, enjoyed the sport, and Koziol was eager to try it.

One look at her size (5-foot-7) and athleticism and Khan and Messina instantly thought goalie. Khan said she was already picking up the footwork and skills.

Koziol had her physical and had already been practicing for a few weeks. She felt fine the day of practice. It was hot, yes, but no hotter than it had been the previous week.

Koziol was driven to the Hackensack Medical Center, where her mother, Anna, works. Anna had actually just gotten home from work and was given a police escort back to the hospital to be with her daughter. They ran tests and she was moved to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where Koziol had an ICD put in (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator).

In the meantime, the school brought in crisis counselors to talk to anyone who had questions. Athletic director Mike Alfonso became the go-between with the family and soccer program.

Incredibly, she returned to school the following Monday. She got to walk out with her teammates for a pep rally. Her uniform number is 15, but she has not been cleared to practice again. She has to take a stress test in a couple of months.

The Garfield community has responded. October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest month, and Alfonso said the school is selling spirit wear, and the girls soccer team will wear red socks and red headbands at a game later this month.

Koziol will be there. She looks good and said she feels good. She can feel the ICD in her chest, and that’s not really fun. She’s been attending games and practices, and the Boilermakers have won two of their last three games.

Clearly, they have won so much more. If athletics is about teamwork, organization and preparedness, the Boilermakers have learned how valuable those skills are at the most crucial time.

Story Credit: https://www.northjersey.com/story/sports/columnists/darren-cooper/2018/10/11/garfield-nj-teen-who-revived-soccer-practice-shares-her-story/1603105002/

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