Benefield: SRJC swimmer who suffered cardiac arrest in pool saved by quick action of teammates, coaches
Morgan DeSalvo had just finished freestyle sprints during a Santa Rosa Junior College swim practice. It was March 5 — the day before the team was to compete in a tri-meet with Las Positas and Sierra colleges in Livermore.
It was an elimination drill and he and some other swimmers hung onto the wall waiting for three other swimmers to finish. DeSalvo, a 21-year-old freshman on the team, did not feel well.
“It felt like I worked out so hard I needed to throw up,” he said.
He tried to pull himself out of the water. He couldn’t. He tried to reach the arm of teammate Megan Ference, with whom DeSalvo had lifeguarded last summer. He couldn’t.
He remembers thinking, “OK, this is happening,” before blacking out and slipping beneath the surface.
“WE WERE IN lane five,” Ference, a freshman, said. The drill was difficult.
“It was full throttle,” she said. “I was huffing and puffing. He was huffing and puffing.”
Ference was talking with teammate and fellow freshman Jada Andrews. She saw DeSalvo go under the water, but it was not unusual. He could have been clearing his goggles, blowing bubbles — anything, she said. But after some time, nobody can remember quite how long, sophomore Katie Morrison felt DeSalvo’s hand brush up against her leg, which was unusual.
“She called out, ‘Megan, Megan, Megan, he’s not OK. He needs help,’” Ference said. Morrison had ahold of DeSalvo’s elbow.
“I dropped underwater in a squat,” Ference said. She lifted his head above the water, hooked her arms under DeSalvo’s armpits and made sure his head was resting on her shoulder above the water.
“He’s 6-feet, 180. I’m 5-3, 110. He was full weight,” she said. “I was on my tippy toes leaning up against the lane line. I’m screaming at Jill.”
HEAD SWIM COACH Jill McCormick was watching the three swimmers still in the sprint relay. When she looked to lane five and saw Ference struggling to hold DeSalvo’s head above water, the alarm bells went off.
“I immediately said, ‘It’s his heart,’” she said.
DeSalvo was born with aortic stenosis — the narrowing of his aortic valve which prevents it from opening fully and which ends up blocking blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. He had special clearance from cardiologists to play non-contact sports as a kid and to swim at the JC.
They had to get DeSalvo out of the water. McCormick called to head assistant coach Tyler Denize, who, as is his usual practice, was walking around the pool deck with a length of PVC pipe in his hand. He had just checked on assistant coach Nolan Stimple, who was working with a group of swimmers in the outdoor pool.
“I didn’t actually hear a cry for help,” Stimple said. “I heard the PVC pipe hit the ground. I saw (Denize’s) red shirt running through the windows and I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ If Tyler is running, something is up.”
“Tyler ripped Morgan out of the pool all by himself,” Stimple said. “He was very pale. He was just lifeless.”
DeSalvo was not breathing.
Stimple, who just completed emergency medical technician training in December, starting directing the action.
“I felt for a carotid pulse. I didn’t feel anything and I thought, ‘This can’t be right, there is no way this kid’s heart has stopped,’” he said. “I did it the old-fashioned way and put my head to his chest and listened for a couple of seconds. We are in the middle of a swim set and this kid’s heart should be thumping pretty loud.”