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'Hero' doctor saves her own son's life after he collapses on the soccer field

Dr. Gina Agredano had just one thought as she fought to save her son’s life after he collapsed on a soccer field and went into cardiac arrest: “He’s not going to die today.”

“I wasn’t ready to lose him,” Agredano, a family practice physician, told TODAY, adding: “I think as a mother, it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.”

Courtesy Gina Agredano
Jose Agredano Jr. has always admired his mom's heart, intelligence and persistence. Those qualities helped her save his life when he collapsed on the soccer field.

Agredano, 45, was a hero in the eyes of her son even before that day.

“I always have seen her as a hero and an amazing person,” said Jose Agredano Jr., 16, a sophomore at San Benito High School in Hollister, California. But after she saved him, he said: “I looked at her a little brighter.”

“She’s a giver and she’s really smart and she doesn’t give up,” Jose added.

Those qualities in his mom may have saved his life.

Jose was playing in a junior varsity soccer game on Feb. 16., when the ball hit him in the chest and he fell to the ground.

“I was just really dizzy, and everything was really blurry,” he said. “I tried to keep my balance, but I went down on one knee and then I collapsed.”

Agredano hadn’t seen the play and thought Jose may have suffered a concussion. She and her husband ran to his side as he lay still on the field. The family later learned that Jose had suffered commotio cordis, or cardiac arrest caused by blunt impact to the chest, his mom said.

Courtesy Gina Agredano
Jose Agredano Jr., 16, with his parents, Dr. Gina Agredano and Jose Agredano Sr., and his sister, Lauren, 11.

“The ball hit him in the heart, and it threw his heart into an abnormal rhythm, and the only way to recover is CPR and an electrical shock,” said Agredano.

Jose was breathing but unresponsive. Agredano told people to call 911, and when the sports trainer asked what she needed, she requested oxygen, as her son’s breathing had become labored, and the AED, or Automated External Defibrillator.

As Agredano checked her son's breathing and his pupils and tried to talk to him, “I was feeling scared and frightened, and everything was surreal and my emotions were still there because I was his mother,” she said.

But then Jose stopped breathing, his lips turned blue and everything changed for Agredano. She brushed her feelings to the side, and the doctor who hadn’t handled a trauma since residency began performing CPR on her son.

“It was game on,” she said. With a single focus, she kept telling herself: “He’s not going to die today. We’re not going to die today.”

“All of those emotions just stopped, and it was like a surge of adrenaline, this fight-or-flight-type thing, that my son’s not going to die,” she said. “That took over.”

Courtesy Gina Agredano
Family physician Gina Agredano hadn't practiced trauma medicine since her residency, but when her son stopped breathing on the soccer field she swept her emotions aside and saved his life.

After two to three minutes of CPR, a firefighter arrived with the AED device, which showed Jose had a “non-life-sustaining heart rhythm,” his mom said. After one shock delivered by firefighters, Jose began to come to, Agredano said. “It was just so wonderful to see him,” she said.

The timing of treatment was crucial for Jose’s survival.

“In this condition, the CPR itself is not enough,” Agredano said. “The heart has to be shocked back into its regular rhythm and it has to be done in a certain time frame. Every minute that passes, the mortality rate increases.”

Jose was taken to a community hospital, and then to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford for about two days of monitoring, but no further treatment was needed. He passed a stress test a week later and so far, doctors don’t anticipate long-term damage.

“He’s doing great,” his mom said.

Dr. Kathleen Ryan, who admitted Jose to the cardiac intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, said in a hospital news release that by performing CPR and ordering the AED to be brought to the field, Agredano's quick actions “made all the difference in the world.”

Jose, who has been playing soccer since age 4 and hopes to play in college, feels lucky his mom was in the bleachers that day. “She took me into this world and she didn’t want me to leave yet,” he said.

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam

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