On March 2, 2021, Katie Hanes-Romano’s decision to major in athletic training saved the life of Pablo Hortal, a 17-year-old high school soccer player. Pablo collapsed during practice, and Katie was fortunately able to reach him in time to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock his heart back to life.

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High School Athletic Trainer Honored at Carolina Panthers Game for Saving Soccer Player’s Life

On March 2, 2021, Katie Hanes-Romano’s decision to major in athletic training saved the life of Pablo Hortal, a 17-year-old high school soccer player. Pablo collapsed during practice, and Katie was fortunately able to reach him in time to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock his heart back to life. Seven months later, they’re both being honored as the Carolina Panthers Keep Pounding drummers.

As the sole certified athletic trainer assigned to Atkins High School in Winston-Salem, N.C. as part of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s Athletic Trainer Program, Katie Hanes-Romano was busy on March 2, 2021. Athletic seasons had been scrambled because of COVID-19, leaving Katie, the school’s athletic director, and coaches to update their emergency action plan. This ensured Katie’s close proximity to every athlete practicing or playing a game so she could prevent and treat any injuries.

Among other activities that day, football players needed their wrists and ankles wrapped with tape prior to practice to help prevent injuries, and the girls’ lacrosse team was heading to their game at the school’s stadium where they’d await Katie’s warmup exercises. The boys’ JV soccer team was already practicing on a field about 400 meters from where Katie was located.

“Ms. Katie, We Need You”

With football practice preparations complete, Katie walked out of the school’s training room to go meet the girls’ lacrosse team when three JV soccer players ran toward her saying, “Ms. Katie, we need you on the field. Someone’s collapsed.” She told the college intern helping her to grab her cell phone and the AED, and she began sprinting toward the field. Partway there, another soccer player warned her, “Please hurry, he’s not breathing.”

Katie reached the field in about 90 seconds and saw coach Dylan Collier performing CPR on Pablo. “He just collapsed,” the coach said. Upon taking over, Katie couldn’t find a pulse, Pablo had turned gray and the AED said a shock was advised. After asking everyone to step back, Katie delivered the shock and continued chest compressions until EMS arrived. “I’ve never been so happy to hear sirens in my entire life,” she recalls.

By the time EMS took over, the AED and CPR had done their job and Pablo had a pulse again. Within minutes, he came around and was actually able to stand and walk to the stretcher. “From where we started when I got to Pablo to seeing him stand up and walk to the gurney was a rush of relief that you just can’t describe,” says Katie.

An Athletic Trainer’s Sole Purpose

Originally a biology major, Katie switched to athletic training as a college freshman after some encouragement from the program’s director and her first experience on the sidelines of a game. “This is exactly what I have to do,” she thought at the time, and she’s never looked back in her 15 years on the job.

Pablo is one of two North Carolina youth athletes to collapse on a field and need resuscitation within the last year, which is why Katie says it’s so important for athletic trainers to be onsite. “There needs to be somebody there who is equipped to respond in emergencies and who has the knowledge base to step in when something’s not right.”

Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute provides more than 100 athletic trainers assigned to 98 schools across North and South Carolina. While at Atkins High School and now at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, N.C., Katie wants her athletes to understand they’re her first priority. “My job is to make sure that you’re healthy, safe and able to play,” she stresses to them.

Parents should also be reassured knowing that athletic trainers are looking after the health and well-being of their children, she adds.

Pablo’s Next Adventure

Although his doctors are still running tests to determine why Pablo collapsed that day, he has returned to most of his former activities with a few adjustments. Rather than playing soccer this season, he’s now team manager—enjoying all the perks of the team without all the running, says his mom, Laura Hortal.

He has a lot to look forward to this autumn. On October 17, Pablo and Katie have the honor of banging the Keep Pounding drum before the Carolina Panthers’ home game against the Minnesota Vikings. After that, he’ll enjoy his soccer team’s senior day, where Katie will be nearby once again, cheering for Pablo alongside his parents.