Nick Zahos Flatlined for 28 Seconds, Then Played Football After Surgery

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2017

Members of the Kingwood High School football team practice Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at Turner Stadium in Humble, Texas. Damage from Hurricane Harvey to their school forced the Kingwood team to practice 9 miles away at another high school and its students will attend classes at still another school in the days to come. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/Associated Press

In Nov. 2016, Hunterdon Central High School football and lacrosse player, Nick Zahos, went into cardiac arrest while watching football with his family, according to Matthew Stanmyre of NJ.com. For 28 seconds, he flatlined while paramedics delivered electrical shocks from an automated external defibrillator.

A year later, he returned to the football field.

His brother, Tommy Zahos, helped to save his life. Before the paramedics arrived, Tommy performed CPR on Nick while a 911 operator directed him over a speaker phone.

"I'm not the average person in stressful situations," Tommy, who intends on joining the military in the special operations field, told Stanmyre. "I wasn't really worried; I just knew that I had to do something, so I did."

Five minutes later, the Readington Township police arrived and took over the resuscitation. Shortly after, the paramedics arrived, loading Zahos into an ambulance, where he began to regain consciousness, before taking a helicopter to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

Doctors were unable to identify what had caused the cardiac arrest. Eventually, Michael Ackerman of the Mayo Clinic "diagnosed Nick with the default designation idiopathic ventricular fibrillation, which means that while he suffered sudden cardiac arrest, they don't know why it happened."

Zahos had beaten the odds. As Stanmyre wrote, "In 2016, about 350,000 people nationwide suffered out-of-hospital cardiac arrest as Nick did; only about 12 percent of them survived, according to the American Heart Association. Many of the original 350,000 were elderly patients, Ackerman said, and younger patients have a better survival rate, although little data exists in the area."

Zahos and his family opted for him to have surgery to insert an implantable cardiac device in his abdomen in April 2017.

Per Stanmyre, "The ICD is battery-powered and designed to last about 10 years, at which time a replacement battery generator is implanted. Nick's is connected to his heart by thin wires, and configured to fire and pace him if his heart drops below 31 beats per minute or shock him if his heart beats faster than 230."

While many of the other doctors Zahos had seen told him his athletic career was likely over, Ackerman said he was open to him returning to athletics.

"In my practice, I try to get a gauge with an athlete and his parents—is that sport optional, or is that sport oxygen?" Ackerman said. "For the family and the athlete where it's utterly optional, we don't try to keep them in their sport. But there are many where that sport is oxygen to them."

Ackerman told Zahos returning to football wouldn't be without its risks—namely if he takes a severe blow to the area of his abdomen where the ICD is located—but Zahos began the process of conditioning and weightlifting after the surgery. Initially, he would lose his breath easily while simply walking through the halls in school.

But eventually, on Sept. 22, he returned to the football field.

"I'm just playing the game I love," Zahos said, despite knowing there's a chance playing football could send him into cardiac arrest again. "I'm just not even focused on it."

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