EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — One minute, Matt McAnaney was standing on the football field sideline, going over a play with his 11-year-old son, Micah, during halftime.
The next minute, McAnaney, 43, of Cape May Court House, hit the ground on his knees and his world went black.
At a Saturday youth football game earlier this month, Middle Township Panthers junior varsity assistant coach McAnaney suffered a heart attack on the field at Egg Harbor Township Veterans Memorial Sports Complex. An automated external defibrillator and nearby medical professionals saved his life.
Heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart malfunctions and stops, are the leading causes of heart disease deaths among Americans, according to the American Heart Association, but national reports show survival rates are slightly higher than before.
National and local experts attribute those higher survival rates to growing education about AEDs and their increasing availability in schools, businesses, sports venues and other public places.
“I was one of those people who didn’t really know the importance of them,” McAnaney said. “We were all trained as coaches, but what were the odds we’d have to ever use it?”
An AED, a small portable device, has electrodes that are attached to a victim’s chest and can deliver a shock to the heart when it experiences fibrillation, or a quivering or irregular heartbeat.
The AtlantiCare Foundation’s Heart Heroes program recently donated the medical device, with matching funds from the Ocean City Police Benevolent Association Local 61, used on McAnaney to the Egg Harbor Township Youth Organization.
An AED can cost as much as $1,400 or more.
McAnaney said he has little family history of heart disease and he had no other risk factors such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, which is why he didn’t think the mild tingling in his arms during the Nov. 4 game had anything to do with a heart problem.
“I had no warning. You wouldn’t think of a heart attack when you’re 43 years old,” he said. “At halftime, my arms felt weird, but it was an exciting intense game. Then I remember hitting the ground and the next thing I remember was looking up at the EMTs in the ambulance.”
Dave DeMara, an assistant coach for the Eagles team, was in the announcer booth when he saw McAnaney go down. He knew, as a physician assistant at the Heart Institute at AtlanitCare Regional Medical Center-Mainland Campus, the Panthers coach was probably having a heart attack.
DeMara ran to the sidelines, where Kristen Davis and Katrina Warren, two off-duty medical technicians, had already started CPR on McAnaney. Dr. David Kenny, an AtlantiCare radiologist and an Egg Harbor Township Youth Organization varsity coach, ran over from another field.
An AED hooked up to the coach analyzed McAnaney’s status and delivered three shocks. Medical officials said McAnaney soon after woke up and was transported to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Mainland Campus in Galloway Township.
“It all happened so fast,” McAnaney’s wife, Sarah, told AtlantiCare officials. “The other coaches didn’t leave Matt’s side while he lay on the field. After Matt was in the ambulance, the entire complex went to the 50-yard-line to pray and have kind thoughts for Matt. It was nice how the two teams came together.”
Dr. Howard Levite, of AtlantiCare Physician Group Cardiology, performed an emergency cardiac catheterization. Doctors also stented two of McAnaney’s arteries to open blood flow to the heart.
McAnaney was released from the hospital Nov. 7. The assistant coach returned to the same field last week to watch his son, the quarterback, and his Panthers teammates win a championship game.
Although he was relegated to the stands during his recovery, he was able to communicate with players and coaches with a headset.
“Dr. (DeMara) was the first one I saw in the hospital after and I just kept thanking him, but he kept saying that without that (AED) there, you might not be here,” McAnaney said. “It’s definitely been eye-opening.”
McAnaney said the Panthers are now fundraising to buy an AED that would be accessible at any time to players, coaches and spectators on the Middle Township fields.
“When it happened to me, people didn’t run away from the situation, but ran toward to help,” he said. “The team and community really pulled together, I hope there are more stories of survival like mine that show how important this is.”