Stranger’s kindness helps save young hockey player’s life

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A small act of kindness. A stranger steps in and changes the course for a young hockey  player– near death after collapsing in front of his teammates. This is a story about heart, getting involved and saving a life.

Emily Petersen, Lurie Children’s nurse practitioner: “Do you mind if I take a listen to you?”

Just as she does for all her patients, nurse practitioner Emily Petersen checks Grey Small’s heart rate and his incision site.

Emily Petersen: “No puffiness, no swelling?”

The 16-year-old had a defibrillator implanted a day ago. It’s not the first time she’s cared for Grey. Three days before he arrived at Lurie Children’s … Emily saved his life.

His passion for hockey started early.

Marilyn Dunn, Grey’s mother: “He started skating lessons when he was about four. I was sort of hoping he would outgrow it by the time he got to the checking leagues, but he didn’t. He liked it even more.”

Grey Small: “It’s been my favorite sport forever.”

On Sunday, October 5, Grey warmed up with his Oak Park River Forest High School team at Paul Hruby Arena.

Grey Small: “I was bringing my stick and my tape to watch the junior varsity game before mine.”

As he stood just off the ice, he collapsed.

Emily Petersen: “We were standing over the end of the rink where the players are.”

Emily happened to be at the rink to watch her boyfriend ref the varsity game. She saw the commotion as Grey’s teammates called for help.

Emily Petersen: “I said, ‘I’m going to wander over there.’ I looked at his color, and he didn’t look good. I knelt down and said, ‘I’m a nurse.’ I checked for a pulse at his neck, and I could not discern a pulse so I started compressions.”

As Emily performed CPR, she called for an AED, which was a few steps away from where Grey had collapsed. Just as it was placed on Grey’s chest, paramedics arrived and took control of the scene.

Emily Petersen: “He required a shock and that got him back into a normal rhythm. After that he started breathing.”

Grey had been in ventricular fibrillation – a sudden cardiac arrest. His heart was quivering, unable to pump blood to his brain and other organs.

Emily Petersen: “The paramedics were two to three blocks away coming from the fire station, so they actually arrived pretty quickly but if not we would have shocked him with our own AED that we had there. Thank God because otherwise he would have died. No doubt about it, 100 percent.”

As Grey recovered at a local hospital, his teammates showed their sign of support. Once he was transferred to Lurie’s Cardiac Care Unit – the floor where Emily just happens to work – another encouraging voice.

Emily Petersen: “I’ve been taking care of him since last Tuesday. It’s been very surreal. It kind of came full circle.”

Robert Small, Grey’s Father: “She shows up in the room, it’s like ‘Yes!’ She gave us a gift that it’s irreplaceable.”

Marilyn Dunn: “The fact that it happened in a place where there were people around, people who knew what to do, the equipment they needed. It’s so lucky. I can’t even comprehend how lucky we were.”

Robert Small: “If Emily hadn’t been there, if they didn’t have the AED at the rink, the paramedics were three blocks away, all those things. If any one of those things isn’t in place, we have a whole different story here.”

Grey Small: “I was in the right place, she was in the right place, everything worked out. I was just crazy lucky. I’m happy to be alive.”

On the day Grey is released from the hospital – one last photo and the chance to share his story with the hope it will encourage others to step in and help.

Grey Small: “I just want to stress the importance of people knowing how to perform CPR and having AEDs in public places.”

Emily Petersen: “And doing compressions, whether you think you’re doing them right or wrong, doing them saves lives. It saved him. The AED saved him.”

The Chicago Blackhawks will honor Emily for her life-saving efforts on October 28 during a pre-game ceremony. Grey and his family will be there to cheer her on.

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