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
"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."
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."
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."
"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."