Reese Marlenee struggled to explain what she couldn’t remember of her life-jolting ordeal.
One day her heart stopped, she was told. Next thing, she was revived, waking up in a hospital bed with a scar on her chest.
“(In between) there are three days I have no memory of,” said the teen, her checks stained with tears. “I just have the pictures on my phone that I took (prior to the episode).”
Marlenee is smiling these days, relieved and grateful to be alive – thanks to the quick actions of others.
The Auburn Mountainview High School sophomore collapsed poolside during her water polo team’s practice at the Auburn School District Pool on March 5.
The 16-year-old girl had suffered a heart attack.
“We realized she wasn’t breathing,” said Lions coach Jenni Pritchard, who, along with the pool’s lifeguards first responded to the fallen girl, called 911 and methodically performed two-person CPR. “It was amazing, and I am so thankful that everyone was here. We were all on the same page and worked together.”
Auburn Police Officer Damon Hewin quickly joined the CPR effort before EMTs and firefighters from the Valley Regional Fire Authority and King County Medic One personnel arrived to treat and stabilize the girl.
The VRFA’s response time to the pool took just over three minutes, according to Deputy Chief Dave Larberg.
Medics rushed Marlenee to Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Hospital in 23 minutes.
Three days later, Marlenee underwent six hours of corrective surgery at Seattle Children’s hospital, where doctors discovered she had a heart defect, a condition called ALCAPA (anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery) syndrome. It is a rare, congenital coronary artery anomaly that may cause dangerously poor cardiac function.
The open-heart surgery also showed signs of prior trauma, heart attacks unknown to Marlenee and her family.
“We had no idea when those things happened,” Jessica Marlenee said of her daughter. “She’s been a healthy kid.”
And a lucky one.
Mom and daughter gathered with family and friends for a ceremony April 17 at the district pool to thank those responsible for saving the girl’s life. There were hugs, handshakes, tears and laughter.
“She’s a lucky kid, and we were lucky that you were here on that day … thank you,” an emotional Jessica Marlenee told the crowd. “You have no idea what this day means to us.”
The ceremony served as an opportunity for Larberg to extend Life Saving Awards to those who helped revive the girl, notably Hewin, Pritchard and lifeguard Morgan Madding. The pool staff’s Natalli Hull and Dawson Orcutt received certificates of commendation for their supportive efforts.
Pritchard, with a background in lifeguard and response training, and many of her student athletes are certified and prepared in CPR and First-Aid.
“It was pretty incredible,” a proud David Easley, the district pool’s aquatic coordinator, said of the level-headed performance of his certified and well-trained staff.
Larberg added: “You couldn’t have written a better script than March 5, 2019. It was an amazing team effort.”
The incident is a reminder that early CPR does save lives. According to the American Heart Association, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival if administered immediately after cardiac arrest. In this case, school district pool staff witnessed the collapse and immediately took action: calling 911, starting CPR and acquiring the school district’s automatic external defibrillator.
“Those who took action in this case did exactly what we teach in our CPR courses. We couldn’t have asked for a better team effort or outcome,” Larberg said.
Reese Marlenee appreciates those efforts. She spent time Wednesday meeting and thanking first-responders for the first time since her fall and recovery.
“It’s nice to say thank you because without them I wouldn’t be here today,” she said. “It was hard then, but I’m fine now.”
She has since returned to school but hasn’t been cleared to drive. Recovery also restricts her from carrying anything heavier than 5 pounds. Her health now requires certain medications and frequent checkups.
She plans to work the concessions at Emerald Downs this spring and, when at full strength, return to the water and competitive sports.
“We feel really blessed,” her mom said. “She’s getting better and better each day. Life has gone back to normal.”
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