Teen athlete uses sudden cardiac arrest experience to help others save a life

A teen athlete suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during a soccer match last summer, and now, she and her family are using that terrifying moment to educate others and raise awareness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes.

13-year-old Nina Taft’s life was saved at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila with an automated external defibrillator (AED) when she collapsed on the field on June 4, 2022.

The family eventually learned Nina was born with a heart defect, an anomalous left coronary artery, or ALCA.

"One minute you’re watching your 13-year-old daughter playing soccer and the other minute, she goes down, said Mary Taft, Nina’s mom. "You’re not thinking cardiac arrest, you want to solve it. When we ran over there, I think just the shock of it all and I remember the silence."

Nina’s coach, Ally,  was one of several heroes in this story. With military experience in trauma situations, she performed tests on Nina to identify cardiac arrest. Coach Ally located where the AED was before the match, and with that knowledge, sent a relay of people to race it to Nina.

"All the parents worked together getting it through locked fences. And of course, as a parent, it feels like hours. I think it was a matter of minutes to where it finally got there. You just push a button and thankfully it gives you instructions and it shocked her back to life," Mary said.

"You know when you hear ‘player down’ and it’s your kid, time stops," Nina’s father, Tom, said.

Tom and a nurse in attendance immediately performed CPR while someone called 911.

Nina’s heartbeat returned by the time the paramedics arrived, thanks to the medical aid and the AED. They rushed her to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where a month later, she had open heart surgery to fix a left anomalous coronary artery.

"Starfire is a big facility with tons of kids playing sports and when someone has sudden cardiac arrest, time is of the essence," said Jon Drezner, the Seahawks and Washington Huskies team physician. He’s also the medical director of the Nick of Time Foundation. "Survival declines about 7-10 percent per minute defibrillation is delayed, so at a big facility at Starfire, you want multiple AED’s."

The Daniel Phelps Foundation and the Nick of Time Foundation donated a second machine to the sports complex last week. This machine is closer to the fields.

"We’ve all witnessed what happened in the NFL with Damar Hamlin, and the reality is that anyone can save a life," Drezner said.

February is American Heart Month, and Nina and her family are using the pain of their experience to help others have a second chance at life.

"Sadly, I did not know that much about it. It’s been a real educational process, a valuable one," Mary said. "Simple tools like CPR and AED’s can change everything. Our goal is to increase awareness, knowing CPR, and inspiring emergency plans really can make a difference. And it made a difference that day."

"This is a scary topic, but I want it to be mostly be about how important it is," Nina said. "Especially from my personal sport story, I want other people to be inspired by it."

The Taft family encourages people to get CPR-certified.

You can also download an app called Pulse Point to see where the nearest AED is to you during an emergency.

You can also learn more information on AEDs and emergency plans through the Daniel Phelps Foundation, which was created for a UW soccer player who went into cardiac arrest.