Soccer team helps save man after massive heart attack in Piedmont Park

Peter Jones had just started playing soccer in Piedmont Park when he suddenly felt unusually winded and tired. The 35-year-old looked toward the sidelines and raised his hand to call for another player to sub in.

That was when the lights went out.

Teammate Taylor Tyger watched him fall gracefully to the ground. She took it as a joke — just him being dramatic as usual.

“Get up, it’s not even that hot outside,” she thought playfully that early April evening. Then she got close enough to see him frothing at the mouth with his eyes rolled back, and she was filled with terror.

No one knew it yet, but Jones had suffered cardiac arrest caused by a major heart attack so bad it’s commonly referred to as a “widow-maker.” A lot of things had to go right for him to survive.

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Two of the soccer players, who happened to be medical professionals at Emory, sprinted over and began administering CPR to get blood flowing to his brain, but they couldn’t find a pulse. In order to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm, they needed an Automated External Defibrillator.

AEDs are portable electronic devices that diagnose cardiac irregularities of the heart rhythm and attempt to stop them with defibrillation. They're equipped with voice instructions so anybody can use them, even without prior training.

When Jones went down on the park's field, no one in the crowd could immediately find an AED. Then someone thought to check at the nearby Sharon Lester Tennis Center and found one there.

After about four minutes of CPR, Jones’ teammates tore off his jersey, strapped the AED to his chest and shocked him twice. His pulse returned, and he began breathing better on his own. Paramedics arrived minutes later.

Jones came to on a stretcher, oblivious to the chaos that’d just ensued. Tyger recalls him already joking during the ambulance ride: “Did I at least score when I fell over?”

Taylor Tyger, Peter Jones, Christian van Scherpenseel

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At Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, Dr. Christopher Meduri stabilized him and put a stent in an artery — a procedure that the interventional cardiologist said was “100 percent necessary.” Meduri, who shares Jones’ love of soccer – they’re both Atlanta United season ticket holders — credits Jones’ teammates for helping save his life.

“What stood out was Peter’s young age and how incredibly fortunate he was to have teammates there to do good CPR during his cardiac arrest,” Meduri told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Without that, his chances of survival would have been much worse and further, if he did survive he would have a high chance of permanent brain damage.”

Jones has played with Hotlanta Soccer, a coed LGBT and ally team that plays with leagues such as Atlanta Sport and Social Club, for about a year. His teammates Dr. Payton Reiter and registered nurse Christian van Scherpenseel are the ones who initially administered CPR.

Reiter said she was grateful she was there for the game and not on call.

Hotlanta Soccer Club. Peter Jones is seventh from left in back row. 

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“As an exhausted resident it’s these kind of direct positive impact encounters that remind me why I went into medicine in the first place,” Reiter said. “I'm also grateful that an AED was available because the shocks most likely saved his life.”

Van Scherpenseel also stressed the importance of CPR and access to defibrillators in emergency situations.

“Nothing can prepare you for when these workplace scenarios unexpectedly occur in public settings,” he said. “But it wouldn't have mattered if I was in a hospital or on a soccer field, my goal was to keep my friend alive.”

The team started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Jones' medical bills, with any money collected beyond his needs going toward an organization that would place more AEDs around Atlanta. More than $7,500 of a $15,000 goal has been reached.

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Jones, who lives in East Atlanta Village, realizes how fortunate he was that people jumped in to help him. The freelance production technician said he now looks for AED machines everywhere he goes.

Success stories like his surface fairly often. In 2016, a teacher used an AED to save a 17-year-old high school senior who collapsed in the middle of a volleyball game in Loganville. Last year, an AED donated by Piedmont Hospital saved a man's life during a Canton baseball game.

Those cases are counteracted by tragic ones where an AED wasn't utilized. A 7-year-old boy died two years ago during soccer practice in Cherokee County when no one could find an AED before medics arrived; one had been at the park, unbeknownst to his coach or mother. The child's mom started AED-4-life, a nonprofit to advocate for more AEDs and free training for coaches.

Both kinds of stories have contributed to AEDs being added in more public places. When two people recently went into cardiac arrest at a MARTA station on the same day, the transportation agency's police chief was reassured that the agency was right to supply all 38 stations with AEDs. This week, Woodstock officials announced they would install four AEDs in the downtown area after receiving $10,000 in funding from Northside Hospital Cherokee.

The city of Atlanta did not respond to questions related to AEDs located in city parks.

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The project will train school staffers to create emergency plans, practice and show how to use AEDs in emergency situations.