It’s been an eventful few months for Anthony Benyarko since he became the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s trainer in February. After the Terps captured their first national championship since 1975 on Memorial Day, Benyarko proposed to his girlfriend on the Gillette Stadium field. The intense emotions that Benyarko felt on that joyous day were rivaled by what he experienced on a lacrosse field in Lake Placid, N.Y., last Wednesday, when he helped save a man’s life.
Benyarko was in the trainer’s tent at the Lake Placid Summit Classic, a lacrosse tournament for men and women of all ages, when he received word that a player on the Ohio Wesleyan alumni team was experiencing chest pains. Before Benyarko and Penn trainer Anthony Erz, who also was working the tournament, started their 100-yard sprint toward Field 3, Benyarko thought to grab an automated external defibrillator.
“Something told me I should probably take the AED with me, just in case, because the group was 50-year-olds and up,” he said this week.
Benyarko and Erz arrived to find 54-year-old John Sussingham sitting up on the ground. While Erz called 911, Benyarko began talking to Sussingham, who said he felt tightness in his chest. About a minute later, Sussingham reported experiencing more intense chest pain and numbness in his left hand before losing consciousness. Benyarko did chest compressions and delivered a shock using the AED, which advised doing CPR.
“Halfway into my second cycle, his chest started to rise and he started breathing,” Benyarko said. “His eyes opened up again. We were pretty excited because your adrenaline is rushing, his wife was there, his son was there, all his teammates were there. That was a good moment, but we honestly celebrated too early.”
Sussingham’s chest pain returned and his arms went numb. State troopers told Benyarko and Erz that paramedics were on their way from Saranac Lake, which was 20 minutes away. Lake Placid volunteer EMT Mellissa “Missy” Furnia arrived on the scene and took over compressions after Sussingham had another heart attack and started to seizure. Benyarko worked to keep Sussingham’s airway open.
“You take the CPR course at the Red Cross and it’s nothing like the real thing,” Benyarko said. “People are screaming and yelling all around you. It’s really hard to focus. He started turning blue and I was getting a little bit worried and then the AED kicked back in. The AED advised a shock again. He had no pulse, so we started CPR, did CPR again, then it advised another shock. The third time we shocked him he started breathing again and his eyes opened.”
When the paramedics arrived, Benyarko said they gave Sussingham an IV and administered epinephrine. Sussingham started talking and was transported to a hospital, where the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported he had a stent placed in his artery.
“I’m feeling great,” Sussingham told the Daily Enterprise the following day. A teammate texted Benyarko a photo of Sussingham giving the thumbs-up sign from his hospital bed.
“It was a relief,” said Benyarko, who never experienced a similar emergency during his 10 years as an athletic trainer at the University of Albany before coming to Maryland. “People asked me how long it took. I couldn’t tell you. I lost all track of time really. You were just concentrated on one thing, and it was great having other people there to help.”
Maryland Coach John Tillman arrived at the tournament a couple of days later and asked Benyarko why he hadn’t told him about his lifesaving incident.
“I was just like, I don’t know, it’s not something you brag about in a group of people,” said Benyarko, whose wedding is set for September 2018. “It just happened and you try to move on from it, you know? It kind of got bigger than I thought it would. … This summer has definitely been a roller coaster. I’m blessed.”
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