Breanna Sudano returned to the grounds of Catonsville High School for the first time last Thursday.
Her last visit to the fields, on Sept. 27, 2011, nearly proved fatal. The Perry Hall High School freshman, then 13 years old, had just scored the winning goal during a junior varsity field hockey game—when she suddenly went into cardiac arrest.
For several minutes until paramedics arrived, Catonsville junior varsity coach Christine Ehrlichman and Perry Hall varsity coach Chastin Faith, as well as three parents attending the game, performed CPR on Breanna. She was revived by paramedics, transported to the hospital and weeks later received heart surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"The credit definitely lies with the coaches, as well as the three parents. They deserve all of the credit in the world for Bre being here with us," said Rebecca Sudano, Breanna's mother.
"Her healing has been pristine," Sudano said. "They called her 'the miracle girl' because she pulled through this."
Seven months after the incident, Breanna is thriving in school, managing the varsity girls lacrosse team and looking forward to playing sports again next fall. A few of her broken ribs continue to heal—a reminder of the lifesaving CPR that maintained her blood flow, allowing Breanna to avoid brain damage.
On April 20, the varsity and junior varsity girls lacrosse teams plan to honor Breanna during a special "Red Out" game against Joppatowne. The girls plan to wear all red, including T-shirts that read "Bre-Strong."
A teammate who was present during Breanna's collapse is expected to make a speech, and Faith will present Breanna with flowers and name her an honorary captain of the lacrosse team.
Sales of T-shirts and wristbands, as well as donations, will benefit the American Heart Association.
Preparing for the fundraiser has been an emotional journey for the lacrosse players, many of whom also played field hockey with Breanna and her older sister Sam, said Kristen Arseneau, the varsity lacrosse coach who is coordinating the event.
The girls, including Breanna as team manager, relived some memories from the incident when the lacrosse team traveled to Catonsville for a game last Thursday.
"It's like it happened yesterday," said Payton Liberto, a senior on the team.
"The worst part was watching them do CPR. It felt like forever," said Marley Heller, a sophomore player.
"It took me 30 minutes to get them off the bus [at Catonsville]. They were very emotional, but they all said they wanted to make a new memory," Arseneau said. "Turning a negative into a positive is what really made the difference."
Liberto said: "I kept remembering how grateful I am that [Breanna's] actually here with us. I'm excited that we can have this [fundraiser] for her."
Sudano said she hopes the fundraising event and her daughter's recovery help raise awareness about the importance of being CPR certified.
"[Breanna] is living proof of the importance of knowing it and not hesitating," she said.
Dr. Sunjay Kaushal of the University of Maryland Medical Center, who performed heart surgery on Breanna, echoed Sudano.
"The lesson is that those coaching teenage children should know CPR ... the coaches saved her life. All coaches should have that capability and learn that technique. It saves athletes," Kaushal said.
Breanna's condition was ultimately diagnosed as an anomalous coronary artery on the left side of her heart, he said.
While she had played sports for several years, her condition did not manifest itself until after the field hockey game last September. Now, months after receiving corrective surgery, Breanna is expected to live a normal life, according to Kaushal.
"She's going to go back and play sports. Her repair was beautiful," he said.
Small milestones have been increasingly important to Breanna, her mother said. With her surgery completed, Breanna celebrated her 14th birthday at home in October—it was a wish come true.
"I just want to thank everyone," Breanna said.
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