Children's Mercy Kansas City athletic trainers save a referee's life on the field
On Wednesday, June 8, Sporting Kansas City Academy’s Patterson Cup was in full swing at Swope Soccer Village.
Two Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center athletic trainers assigned to Sporting Kansas City Academy, Karan Padmakumar, MS, LAT, ATC, and Payton Jensen, ATC, LAT, CSCS, were both working on Victory Field.
Karan was in the medical tent while Payton was with the Academy’s U14 team as they battled Nashville’s club. The second half of the match was just beginning. Referee Mark Kinch, a staple at Academy matches for the past several years, prepared to blow the whistle to signal the start of play. He took a couple steps and then fell face forward.
Jorge Santana, athletic trainer for the Nashville side, was first to reach Mark. Payton joined him seconds later.
“When we arrived, he was actively seizing,” said Payton.
He and Jorge rolled him onto his side, stabilized his head and signaled to Karan and other staff to contact Emergency Medical Services. Mark continued to seize for five or six minutes. Payton and Jorge monitored his pulse and began CPR when he lost pulse and became cyanotic.
“We opened the airway and started compressions,” said Payton. “Luckily we had an AED onsite.”
Karan had seen Mark fall from a distance and ran over with the automated external defibrillator (AED), which is standard medical equipment for Sporting Academy but not often on-hand at other youth soccer clubs around the country.
As Payton and Jorge began setting up the AED, Karan began calling 911 and started implementing their emergency action plan (EAP), including removing players from visibility and opening gates so EMS could arrive quickly. Another Children’s Mercy employee, Lisa Wedel (MS, APRN, CPNP-PC), was on site because she’s an Academy host parent. She ran to help and was instrumental in getting Mark the care he needed.
“That emergency action plan is standard for [Sporting Kansas City Academy] but not for everyone,” said Karan. “That’s the message we want to get across: These things we had set in place really made a difference.”
Payton agreed. “It’s not only having the plan, but everyone knowing what to do,” he said. “Having a team that is cohesive and who knows their roles is super important in an emergency situation.”
Payton and Jorge went through three cycles of CPR and administered one shock before EMS arrived. Karan met the truck as it arrived and debriefed them on Mark’s condition.
“Once they came, EMS took over the situation. We were able to inform them of everything that we’d already done,” Payton said. “When I explain it, it sounds like it happened in the blink of an eye, but it felt much longer when in the situation.”
“Time just disappears when you’re in a situation like that,” Karan agreed.
“This was so well controlled,” said Lisa. “No one panicked. Karan and Payton acted like they had run this scenario a thousand times. I was so incredibly impressed with Karan, Payton, and all of the SKC Academy staff involved with how they worked together to get Mark the help he so clearly needed.”
Karan and Payton worked with the Academy’s referee assigner to track down Mark’s emergency contacts, so his loved ones could meet him at the hospital. Mark's family kept Karan and Payton updated on his condition in the days that followed.
“The first thing I remember is waking up in a hospital room around 4 p.m. the next day,” said Mark. “It still feels pretty surreal.”
Mark’s family has some history of heart disease, but he had no warning signs before his heart attack. He had worked from home earlier that day, then arrived early for the 5 p.m. match feeling normal and ready to ref. He is especially grateful that the cardiac event happened on the field with professionals with medical training nearby.
“With me working remotely, if it had happened at home, I wouldn’t be talking to you,” Mark said.
Mark said he’s going to pay much more attention to what on-site medical care is available at games in the future. He’s seen his share of broken bones and concussions on the pitch, but never a health event like what he experienced.
“Part of my annual [referee] recertification is safe sport training,” Mark shared. “Some of that is recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest. I never imagined I’d be witnessing it—or be the one it happened to.”
Many people don’t realize the breadth of knowledge athletic trainers possess, including being able to provide emergency care. From injury evaluation to rehabilitation to being the liaison between players and other medical providers, athletic trainers are on the front lines of sports medicine. While traveling, athletic trainers are doing everything from monitoring players’ colds to making sure kids with allergies are getting the medicine they need.
“Every aspect of healthcare you can think of for these kids, we’re touching in some way,” Karan explained.
Athletic trainers must go through accredited programs and most hold master’s degrees; all are board certified and state licensed.
“We serve as a primary healthcare professional for these athletes, 24/7,” said Karan. “We are there for every practice, every game...we’re trained in emergency care to ensure that in an emergency like this, there’s a trained professional around.”
Mark’s doctors told him that fast thinking and immediate action by Karan, Payton, Jorge and others not only saved his life but protected him from brain damage. Mark is now out of the hospital, resting and beginning cardiac rehab. He would like to return to refereeing after his recovery is complete.
“I’m very, very grateful for their quick response,” said Mark. “The fact that I’m still here is because of them.”
“Our athletic trainers are incredibly skilled health care professionals who perform an invaluable service in the community,” said Dr. Kevin Latz, Chief, Section of Sports Medicine. “Their skill set is often under appreciated. We are blessed to have Payton and Karan representing Children’s Mercy Hospital.”