An ordinary volleyball practice turned extraordinary when a girl’s life was saved by three coaches.
The lifesavers of junior Katarina Weigel were Katy Sherwood (YHS varsity volleyball coach), Mike Rescigno (YHS varsity football coach), and Jeff Wilson (Yorktown Athletic Club coach).
The trio will be deservedly recognized by the American Red Cross with the "good samaritan/group: trained to save lives" award at the ninth annual Community of Heroes Breakfast Celebration on June 23.
“Their story is incredibly compelling,” said Abigail Adams, Communications Director of the Westchester County Chapter of the American Red Cross. “They brought their own expertise and saved Katarina’s life. If they hadn’t jumped in acting without fear, she would not be here.”
A board of volunteers and staff voted for the three coaches to receive the award after Katarina’s father Bob Weigel nominated them.
On July 15, 2010, Katarina was at a pre-season varsity volleyball team workout at the high school when she suddenly fell to the floor, convulsing. Sherwood, her coach, told the Volleyball Team to search for other people to help and to call 911.
“They didn't ask questions,” Sherwood said. “They just did what they were told to do. I know they were very scared, but they held it together.”
When Sherwood realized that Katarina didn’t have a pulse and wasn’t breathing, she commenced performing CPR. Though she knew the procedure from annual CPR training since high school, this was her first time executing CPR on a human.
“I was more in shock when I realized I would have to give CPR,” Sherwood said. “You don't think you will ever have to do it, especially on a young girl.”
Wilson, also a Yorktown and Mamaroneck volunteer firefighter, happened to be in the building at the time of the incident and was able to apply his knowledge by carrying out chest compressions on Katarina. He is also a CPR and First Aid instructor for the American Heart Association (was formerly for the American Red Cross as well) and a certified EMT.
“There wasn’t time to panic,” Wilson said. “My experience and training took over.”
Rescigno rushed to the gym with an automated external defibrillator (AED), which indicated that a shock was not necessary. Afterwards, Katarina Weigel coughed and her heart began beating. Subsequently, the ambulance arrived, and she regained consciousness on the way to the hospital.
Weigel was eventually diagnosed with a rare form of Long QT Syndrome called Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT), a genetic electrophysiological heart disorder (a sudden death arrhythmia). During high-stress physical or emotional events, CPVT affected individuals are especially at risk.
Daria Weigel, Katarina’s mother, had a brother Greg Coleman, who passed away in 1984 while engaged in a wrestling match. Though his coach performed CPR on him, he unfortunately never regained consciousness, and the family was left in the dark about the real cause of his death. Considering Katarina’s diagnosis, her family now suspects that Coleman had Long QT Syndrome.
“Coaches Sherwood, Wilson, and Rescigno saved Katarina with their knowledge of CPR,” Bob Weigel said. They also made our family aware of the genetic defect in our family. This knowledge will help prevent any future tragedies and has given closure to my wife and her family on the death of her brother.”
In addition to Sherwood being Katarina’s volleyball coach, Coleman’s wrestling coach was also Rescigno’s football coach. Wilson is a family friend of the Weigels.
“This save was a bit extra special,” Wilson said.
The trio has been recognized by other organizations for their heroic save. In October, the American Heart Association honored them with American Heartsaver Awards. In November, WHUD recognized Sherwood and Rescigno as Coaches of the Month.
“It is a nice honor, but I really don't need any awards,” Sherwood said. “I was doing what anyone would have done that day. I am just happy I knew what to do, when to do it, and how to do it correctly. Having Kate alive is the only reward I need.”
Katarina is not only grateful for the swift deeds of the coaches, but is in turn making a difference.
“My outlook on life has made a 180-degree change,” she said. “Now I realize the ‘big picture’ and enjoy life every day. I have taken this second chance to tell my story to others and stress the importance of being trained in CPR and knowing what to do if you are faced with an emergency.”
The American Red Cross invites all to the award ceremony at the Community of Heroes Breakfast Celebration on Thursday, June 23 at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Westchester Rye Brook Hotel (699 Westchester Ave., Rye Brook, New York 10573). Tickets are $50 per person. Contact Amanda Swan at SwanA@usa.redcross.org or 914.946.6500 x403.