Annapolis resident Mike Greenhill is one of those rare guys who, even after he turned 50, could effortlessly sprint up and down a soccer field like he did as a much younger man. Until one evening last year, the 53-year-old took this ability for granted. Now, as Greenhill prepares to return to the game after an 11-month hiatus, he's happy to be alive. For this, he thanks a young woman whom he calls "his angel."
Last April Stephanie Andrews, a 22-year-old Howard County firefighter and emergency medical technician from Sykesville, agreed to play a soccer game on her friends' co-ed team because it was short a few players. It happened to be the same team for which Greenhill played. On game day, Andrews did far more than serve as a substitute player.
The game, held in an indoor soccer facility in Hanover, started out like any other for Greenhill. But a few minutes into it, when he was called to sit down on the bench as the second wave of players took to the field, it became clear to everyone in the arena but him that something was wrong.
"I noticed Mike go white and start to lean as if he was going to fall off the bench," Andrews recalled.
Within seconds, her emergency medical training spurred her to action. With the aid of the referee, Andrews laid Greenhill on the floor. She checked his pulse twice. The first time, she felt it. The second time, she didn't. Immediately, Andrews began CPR on Greenhill, instructed someone to call 911, and called out for a defibrillator. There was none.
She continued to perform CPR on an unconscious Greenhill until the ambulance arrived. Although Andrews had performed CPR several times before as part of her profession, this time the circumstances were far more stressful.
"It is a much different experience when you are working with your team and have all of the needed equipment right there for you to use," she said.
Andrews also was unnerved at having to respond to the anxious spectators who had witnessed their friend and teammate suffer sudden cardiac arrest before getting carted off in on an ambulance.
"Many asked if he would be alright, and it was hard to be honest without giving people false hope," said Andrews, who has seen far more people in Greenhill's condition die than walk out of the hospital alive.
Since enduring sudden cardiac arrest, Greenhill has become acutely aware of the grim statistics surrounding it.
"The odds of surviving sudden cardiac arrest are 5 percent. Not only that, but of the five percent who are lucky enough to survive, only between 3 and 7 percent don't suffer brain damage," he said.
Greenhill's doctors attribute his positive outcome to the quick action of his teammate and good health prior to the incident. A long-term fitness buff, he has been active in sports his entire life. A stint as a manager of a health club taught him how to add healthy eating habits to his active lifestyle; and he boasts low cholesterol and blood pressure readings.
Greenhill's doctors suggest a genetic defect caused the irregular heartbeat that preceded his sudden cardiac arrest.To protect him in the event that he should go into sudden cardiac arrest again, surgeons installed a defibrillator in his chest.
"It's like a little hockey puck. It shocks your heart back to life if it stops," he explained.
With the added security provided by the device, Greenhill is ready to take to the soccer field once again. He's been given the nod of approval from his doctor, and plans to return to his former team in the near future.
But Greenhill already welcomed the opportunity to re-unite with one of his teammates. On March 21, he attended the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services annual awards ceremony, which honored Andrews and other local firefighters and paramedics for their heroic endeavors over the past year.
Since the fateful incident last April, both teammates see things a little differently.
"This situation has helped me realize how short and precious life is," Andrews said.
Echoing her sentiments, Greenhill said: "Every day is exciting."
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