With a CPR mannequin laid out on a table next to him, Cottage Grove Fire Capt. Nick Arrigoni on Wednesday told a few dozen East Ridge High School basketball players how to save a life when someone's heart stops.
His voice rising above the din of other athletes working out in the school's gymnasium, Arrigoni told the players how to assess the victim, call 911 and set their phone on speaker mode, and then quickly begin chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute.
"You might crack ribs — you can hear it and feel it — but if you don't start CPR they will die," Arrigoni said.
The training — which included hands-on demonstrations of CPR and automated external defibrillators, or AED machines — is the latest effort by the Dowdle family of Cottage Grove to teach people how to use AEDs and CPR to save lives.
It's all because of one fateful day on the court.
"My son Theodore passed away from sudden cardiac arrest on the basketball court on Woodridge Park on May 4, 2022," Craig Dowdle said.
Since then, it has been the family's mission to place AEDs in public places and to train people on how to use the lifesaving devices. Their Teddy's Heart nonprofit founded last year is on track to have 15 AEDs installed in Cottage Grove and Woodbury by April, Dowdle said. The machines cost $5,500 to $8,000, and donations have come from private donors, Lions clubs, the Cottage Grove Athletic Association and others. The machines are built to withstand Minnesota weather — they come from Canada, Dowdle said — and have been placed in public parks in Cottage Grove and Woodbury.
Theodore "Teddy" Dowdle played basketball throughout childhood; born with a bicuspid aortic valve, he had surgery at age 16 and was cleared to play sports. While playing pickup basketball with his brother, Carter, and other friends, Dowdle suffered cardiac arrest. The family said CPR was administered but no AED machine was nearby, a difference that might have saved his life.
"You really need to get that shock into a person within the first two to five minutes; that has the best chance of saving a life," Craig Dowdle said.
The Dowdles started their foundation last year, and have partnered with local high schools in Cottage Grove and Woodbury for now. The basketball game this Friday between Park of Cottage Grove and East Ridge High School will be "Teddy's Heart Foundation" night; a football game between the two schools last fall was similarly named.
It's extremely rare for young athletes to suffer cardiac arrest, but a study from Oregon Health & Science University found that some subgroups of athletes have higher rates than others: Men are more likely than women to suffer cardiac arrest, Black athletes were three times as likely as whites to die from sudden cardiac death, and basketball players had higher rates of sudden cardiac arrest than other sports.
The basketball world got a reminder last July when Bronny James, LeBron James' son and a freshman at the University of Southern California, collapsed from cardiac arrest during a basketball workout. Rescuers used CPR and a defibrillator to save his life. Just six months earlier, his teammate Vincent Iwuchukwu suffered cardiac arrest during an off-season workout. He was also saved and received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
East Ridge basketball team captain Charlie Theis, a senior from Cottage Grove, said he and his teammates were grateful for the training on Wednesday. "It never really occurred to me but it can really happen to anybody," he said.
Emily Dowdle, Theodore's mom, started the training on Wednesday with the story of her son's passing. Her son Carter, who is also the coach of the East Ridge basketball team's B squad, told the players he hoped they would learn from the basic training provided Wednesday so they would know what to do if they ever had to face the things he saw with his brother.