Jim Dirksen has only one memory from indoor practice for his son’s baseball team on January 11, 2015.
“I was pitching batting practice and my son (Jake) was batting.” From that point on, “People closest to me have reconstructed the story,” he says.
The reconstruction begins with Jim collapsing after delivering a pitch to Jake.
“By the time the coaches got to me, I had no pulse,” says Jim, a 56-year-old Oswego resident. He had suffered a heart attack and gone into sudden cardiac arrest.
The reconstruction continues with 16-year-old Ariana Castillo, a junior at Oswego High School, who was there the same night practicing with her Oswego Outlaws softball team.
“I saw that Jim was on the ground in the batting cage,” recalls Ariana. “It just clicked in my head, ‘I know CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).’ He looked gone. I did 30 compressions. Fluid started to come up his throat so we turned him over to clear his airway. I did 30 more compressions and was about to start compressions again when the paramedics arrived.”
“It’s an amazing story,” says Jim, a scientist at Cabot Microelectronics. “She had the heart and confidence of a lion. I was dead, no heartbeat, no nothing. I don’t know how she did it, how she had the strength, but she broke four of my ribs.”
Ariana weighs 115 pounds, Jim is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 205 pounds.
The paramedics took Jim to the hospital where he had to be shocked three times before he was stabilized. Afterward, doctors put him in an induced coma for four days and inserted stents to treat two blockages in his coronary arteries.
About two weeks later, Jim visited the indoor training facility to meet Ariana and say thank you. “I call her my guardian angel,” he says. Because of that, he gave her a necklace with angel wings.
“Knowing Jim was okay and receiving the necklace from him was probably one of the greatest things ever," says Ariana. “He was there talking to kids. It was good to see him come back. It made me feel a lot better.”
Less than three months later, Jim returned to work and coaching baseball with no long-term effects from the heart attack, the type doctors call a “widow maker” that has only a five percent chance of survival for its victims.
Jim survived thanks to Ariana’s CPR, which she learned as a sophomore. Illinois high schools are required to teach students how to administer CPR and use an AED (automated external defibrillator). The mandate went into effect in 2015, but high schools in Oswego, Naperville and Yorkville have included CPR/AED training in their curriculums for at least five years.
Amanda Hunt, manager of the Community Training Center at Edward Hospital, coordinates a “train the trainers” program for those who teach the CPR/AED classes at area high schools. The result of those classes will be a generation that’s empowered to look out for one another and take care of each other when the need arises, says Amanda.
“Because Ariana had been trained, she wasn’t hesitant or fearful, kind of like a parent who just reacts when a child needs help,” she says. “The fact that she was willing to jump in shows the confidence she had gained through the training.”
Amanda also notes it’s critical for teens and adults to learn CPR because about 88 percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen in the home.
Ironically, in 1998, Ariana’s parents, Wendy and Ramon Castillo, couldn’t leave the hospital with Ariana after she was born until they learned infant CPR because doctors discovered she had a double heart murmur. The condition naturally corrected itself over time, but Ariana still has regular check-ups with a cardiologist.
“To see her grow up, certified in CPR and perform it on an adult and save a life is very gratifying,” says Wendy. “It also made me think as a parent how important it is that coaches be certified in CPR.”
The Oswego Outlaws softball organization implemented CPR/AED training for its coaches following the incident.
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