Saving a life: Athletic trainer keeps South Rowan High School players safe

Published 12:10 am Friday, November 27, 2015

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

The young woman with long, blonde hair stands at the sidelines, intently watching the game.

She has a runner’s build and indeed runs every other day. But she’s not a player, nor is she a coach. She’s an athletic trainer for South Rowan High School, and it is her task to keep all the players on the field — or the court or the mat — safe.

That’s exactly what Elizabeth Nottingham did this summer. She saved the life of an A.L. Brown soccer player when he collapsed following a match at South.

Thanks to Nottingham’s calmness and training, the student survived and is doing fine. But Nottingham says the chances for a good outcome could’ve been even better with the use of an AED: an automated external defibrillator. All six of the high schools are mandated to have at least one of the machines — and some have more, according to Angie Chrismon, South’s athletic director. But a grant from the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center’s foundation is putting an additional machine at each of the high schools, into the bags of athletic trainers.

Nottingham works at Pinnacle Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Through Novant’s outreach program, the hospital provides a certified athletic trainer for every high school.

Dr. Harrison Lattimer is an orthopedic surgeon with the practice.

We’d like to thank the Heart Ball Committee, chaired by Beverly Dillard, for providing the AEDs, which are $1,500 apiece,” he says. “Our goal has been to provide our school system with services and programs to keep our athletes safe.”

We are so thankful to the hospital foundation,” Chrismon says. “We appreciate all they do for our school system and our programs.”

Nottingham admits that game days make for long days after time spent in the office as a clinical assistant. She escorts patients to rooms, and assists with procedures.

It’s a good fit for her.

I like sports, and I like to be as active as I can,” she says. She’s present at every game or match for football, basketball, soccer and wrestling. A first responder is also always present.

She still thinks about that day at South in late August. Athletic trainers travel only with the football teams, so Nottingham was tasked with monitoring all the players on the soccer field. The match had gone smoothly, and the players had already shaken hands and huddled into separate teams out on the field.

Then, Nottingham says, “A couple of players from Brown frantically waved me over. The player appeared to be having a seizure. I alerted my athletic director to call 911. He stopped having the seizure. I waited for him to move, but he just lay there. I just waited, and then I realized he wasn’t going to move. He was cold to the touch and discolored, and he had no pulse.”

Nottingham began to administer CPR, assisted by two moms from the stands who were nurses. They took turns performing CPR until the paramedics arrived.

Through communications with Brown’s coaches and athletic director, Nottingham later found out the student was OK.

He’s doing good from what I hear, and that’s great,” Nottingham says.

Although CPR is part of Nottingham’s training, she’s typically faced with concussions, sprains or breaks.

I knew it was happening, and I did what I had to do,” Nottingham says. She remained calm throughout the ordeal but admits, “but I was a mess after.”

It was her first time doing CPR “in real life,” she says, not on a dummy in training.

This was like any situation we prepare for,” Lattimer says. “We are very lucky we had a good outcome.”

An AED would have been helpful, Lattimer says, “but she saved him anyway.”

Now Nottingham and the other trainers will have that tool at their immediate disposal.

Nottingham, 27, is a 2006 graduate of South, and graduated in 2010 from UNCC with a degree in athletic training. She is the daughter of Phil and Dawn Tilley, and she’s married to Tyler Nottingham, a fabricator at Copacetic Metal Shaping in China Grove. The Nottinghams live in China Grove with their four dogs — one of whom recently came and made himself at home.

Everybody’s very proud of me,” Nottingham says. “But I had a lot of help. Everyone stayed calm, and everything fell into place. It was really good teamwork. It could’ve gone either way. But he pulled through, and I’m glad it went the way it did.”

Elizabeth has been our trainer for several years,” Chrismon says. “It’s been very unique for us because she is an alumnus and she has a vested interest already.”

Chrismon says that South already has two AEDs. One is kept at the front of the school, and the other typically travels with teams.

It’ll be nice to have the third one in place,” she says. “That third AED will be very much appreciated.”

Chrismon says the other schools have at least two, and that all coaches are mandated to be certified in CPR and AED by August 2016.

Nottingham’s re-certification helped keep her up-to-date on CPR techniques, which have changed over the years.

It’s something I think about regularly, and I’m thankful he’s doing well,” she says of the player. “That makes me happy.”

She’s also happy to get to know the South athletes.

The more you get to know them,” she says, “the more they trust you and are more comfortable with you.”

Nottingham says that the day after the soccer match, South and Brown played football at home.

I met the Brown athletic director and a lot of the soccer players from both teams came together in honor of that player,” she says.

In that moment, “Everybody was just a team. Everybody wanted to be there for the athlete. In that moment, the huge rivalry faded.”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.