Bennington, Vermont: Quick Thinking Saves a Life On The Pickleball Court

MANCHESTER — The assistant director of Manchester’s Parks and Recreation Department is being feted as a local hero for helping to save the life of a man playing pickleball this fall.

At the end of September, Manchester residents who had been learning, practicing and playing pickleball at the Rec organized an end-of-the-season gathering.

Nicole Dexter dropped by the gathering to show her support for the participants, who she has grown quite close to. Dexter started the Rec’s pickleball program in the spring of 2017, and it has steadily grown in popularity ever since.

Just before 6 p.m. in the middle of a match, a male participant in his early 60s collapsed in cardiac arrest. Dexter heard people shouting his name and saw the man on the ground about 60 feet away from her. She immediately called 911.

Because Dexter was the only person with medical experience in the vicinity, she quickly passed the 911 call to someone else as she knelt to give CPR. Before she arrived, others had been doing “what they could” by giving chest compressions to the man. Someone who had been attending to the man informed Nikki that they had heard gasps and detected only a faint pulse, which faded to nothing and then returned.

Dexter used a CPR rescue barrier shield she had attached to her key-ring and gave breaths to the man before beginning chest compressions.

“I didn’t even think, I just did,” Dexter said.

Town Manager John O’Keefe was amazed, calling the quick thinking efforts “a real heroic action.” O’Keefe said the man survived.

O’Keefe said that compared to CPR, “the level of success is much greater with an AED.” But the Automatic External Defibrillator was in a locked building several hundred feet away. Giving manual CPR was the only viable option.

The scariest part for Dexter? “Hearing the ribs crack.”

CPR training calls for people to push down at least 2 inches while completing 100-120 compressions per minute. The combination of speed and intensity can result in broken bones.

“The first four or five compressions, all I heard was cracking,” Dexter said.

The ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after the man had collapsed and medical personnel took over.

By the time he was put into the ambulance, Dexter said he was breathing on his own.

Dexter said the man was transported by ambulance and then transported by helicopter, along with his wife who had been with him at the pickleball gathering to Albany Medical Center.

This gentleman is “the fifth person in the last two years” to be resuscitated by town employees, O’Keefe said. Four people have been revived by Manchester Police Department officers and now one by Dexter.

O’Keefe said about two years ago, as part of (the Police Department’s) most recent contract negotiations, members were given an increase if they all become first aid, CPR and AED certified. They all went through the training.

Some of those officers were trained by Dexter who teaches CPR/AED certification at the Manchester Rec, training lifeguards and others.

“I practice it so much it’s literally ingrained in my brain,” Dexter said. “I’m not only looking at how I do it myself, but I know how to critique others so I know what to look out for.”

Though Dexter has been CPR/AED trained for 11 years, Sept. 30 was Dexter’s first time performing CPR. She was first certified at the age of 15 — initially seeking certification because she took a job as a lifeguard. At the Rec, where she has worked as the assistant director for almost three years, she is the most qualified medical provider.

The pickleball program she oversees has grown in popularity since 2017, and the town has already planned to make space for another court in the spring to with the two it has now.

O’Keefe said that they plan to include an additional court as part of the basketball and skateboard park reconfiguration.

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It is described as “wiffleball meets tennis” and is popular among players of all ages. It’s a small court and the slower pace make it approachable for young and old alike. Because the ball has holes in it, it tends not to go as far as a tennis ball. The ease of the sport allows one to master it and enjoy it quickly.

Dexter said hopes to encourage everyone to learn CPR.

“It could have been anyone,” Dexter said. “Anyone could have been there and a lot of people were there.”

But Dexter was the only one able to perform CPR and save the man’s life.

Dexter would be glad to train you. Training is provided by the rec department in the spring and early summer, as well as on demand. Email for more information. [Bennington Banner]

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