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Michigan youth who ‘died on court’ surprises teammates

December 30, 2018

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — Luke Anhalt checked out of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital around 11 a.m., Dec. 18.

About nine hours later, following his 4 1/2-day stay at the medical facility on the heels of some harrowing moments recently, he checked into Muskegon Catholic Central’s Ray Cioe Gymnasium.

The 6-foot-3 senior snuck into the building with less than two minutes remaining in his team’s game against the Crusaders, wearing a blue Calvary Christian zip-up with “ANHALT” on the back and black Adidas exercise pants.

He casually walked down the sideline in front of the team benches, patted his unsuspecting coach on the back while fashioning a smirk, and took a seat at the end of the Eagles’ bench.

His teammates hardly seemed to notice him at first, The Muskegon Chronicle reported . Most were preoccupied with a game that did not go the Eagles’ way. But, one by one, they realized Luke’s presence. And, boy, did they ever feel it.

“I didn’t see him walk in. I might’ve been shooting free throws. I didn’t see him until they called timeout with 3 seconds left. I just saw him on the bench sitting there, doing nothing,” Calvary Christian senior Zach Zehr, Luke’s best friend, said with a laugh.

“It was really cool. I was really excited to see him.”

One frightful moment days earlier at basketball practice, the Eagles did not know if they would ever see Luke again.

During a free-throw-shooting drill, the starting forward crumpled to the floor. His heart had stopped. The slender 17-year-old, who is as healthy as can be, was not breathing.

Thanks to immediate recognition by a teammate that something had gone terribly wrong, Eagles head coach Jeff Zehr was alerted and he took immediate action. Using the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) that’s located in the corner of the Calvary Christian gym and administering CPR, Zehr got Luke breathing again.

Late afternoon Dec. 13, 2018, Luke died on that gym floor. But thanks to the quick, poised reaction by Zehr and others, including the EMS team that rushed to Calvary Christian Schools, Luke was resuscitated and his life was saved.

“If he doesn’t get that shock (from the AED), he’s dead,” Luke’s father, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Anhalt, said matter-of-factly Dec. 17 during what was an impromptu and otherwise joyous occasion for his son inside MCC’s gym.

When Luke showed up and patted Zehr on the back, the coach was intently focused on the game, but he took a second to see who it was. The look on Zehr’s face was somewhat incredulous, but in a good way.

“That was good. You know, first time being on a basketball court and he saved my life, so ...,” Luke said, pausing to reflect. “That’s a bond that never will be broken.”

Calvary Christian’s 77-44 loss to Muskegon Catholic Central was basically an afterthought, particularly when Luke entered the gym. He’s one of the Eagles’ top players, but points and rebounds have been the least of anybody’s concerns lately.

“In light of reality, in light of what really matters, it was just awesome to see him walk in and give me a little smirky smile as he walked by,” Zehr said. “It’s the best thing that could have happened, all-in-all.”

The Eagles were having a light practice, lower intensity with little running.

During a free-throw drill, Jeff Zehr said that Luke had run the length of the court and back, when he laid down on the floor in a way that did not cause Zehr to give it too much thought initially.

“I saw it out of the corner of my eye and figured within a few seconds I’d see what he was doing, but it was a player that had checked on him and realized something was wrong and called me over,” said Zehr, who described the collapse not so much as a teetering tree but more of a crumpling.

Zehr said it was only a matter of seconds before Luke’s teammate said something, but the coach could not ascertain whether it was a seizure or heart incident. Zehr, who is a chiropractor with medical training under his belt, first thought it might be a seizure based upon some of the signs. But, within seconds, he realized that Luke was not breathing.

Zehr called for somebody to get the AED and for someone else to call 9-1-1.

“My son, Luke’s best friend, sprinted over there and got the AED. Coach (Mike) Harris called 9-1-1,” Zehr said. “By the time I even realized, there (the AED) was. He had sprinted and got it.”

Zehr said that the AED device walked him through the process.

“It ended up telling me that he needed to be shocked, it ended up telling me to clear and hit the flashing red button and it shocked him, just like you see on TV, and then it told me to begin to do chest compressions and I did do that, as you’re taught,” he said.

Zehr performed chest compressions until EMS arrived. Those continued, and EMS added a breathing bag and shocked Luke one more time with the AED that was already hooked up to him. Zehr said a pretty strong pulse returned, and EMS loaded him into an ambulance.

“It turned out, according to what DeVos said after they read all the (AED) data, we got him to the hospital literally in record time according to what they told me. Thirteen minutes as opposed to sometimes 30 and 60 (minutes), which I had no concept of,” Zehr said. “To me, we just did what we had to do.”

Zehr firmly believes that Luke would not be here if Calvary Christian did not have an AED in its gymnasium. He also thinks AEDs should be readily available at outdoor sporting events, too.

“I would say he died and came back to life in that gym,” Zehr said.

Jeff Anhalt said that a cause still has not been found for his son’s heart incident.

“We are way down the list. There are some genetic tests remaining. He has a stress test on a treadmill in a month,” he said.

Luke had an subcutaneous internal defibrillator placed. It sits under his skin and outside the chest wall. It recognizes the two shockable fatal heart rhythms and administers the shock to convert him back to normal.

Dr. Anhalt shared a link from the Boston Scientific website regarding young athletes and Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA).

The site states that SCA is the leading cause of death in young athletes, and most often the death occurs during athletic training or competition. It goes on to note that in the U.S., a young, competitive athlete dies suddenly every three days; young athletes are more than twice as likely to experience Sudden Cardiac Death than young non-athletes; and that 90 percent of victims are male.

According to Jeff Anhalt, Luke’s cardiologist said that he’d be able to return to athletics in two to three months.

“I started talking to them about real-time, heart-rate monitoring so that we can ramp him up safely. I was talking to his cardiologist’s nurse and she was emphatic, ‘He can’t do anything until his stress test in a month!’ I said, ‘I know, I know the rules. But if we’re going to do that, I’ve got to be ready. I need certain equipment and monitoring, that kind of stuff.’

“He and I have talking about that. We think we’ve narrowed it down to some equipment that we need for him to be able to do that and return safely and he wants to.”

Luke is headed to Spring Arbor University, where he’s earned a scholarship and will play for the reserve soccer team. He earned all-state honors as a midfielder in the fall for Calvary Christian.

Jeff Anhalt said that the reserve team will be perfect for Luke because he’s planning to study medicine and he’ll be facing a rigorous academic schedule.

Jeff Anhalt said that after Luke checked out of the hospital, they went home and took it easy. Luke napped, watched a movie and caught up on some much-needed rest.

The Anhalts did not plan to attend Calvary Christian game, but they were eating dinner when Luke’s sister, Cate, said she wanted to go and support the team. Luke perked up at the suggestion and seconded the notion. Soon, the entire family -- father Jeff, mother Sam and siblings Alex (20), Cate (14) and Will (12) -- was on its way to Muskegon Catholic Central High School.

Calvary Christian postponed its game, scheduled to be played at Fruitport, and athletic director Rick Maine said they’re looking at Feb. 9 as a likely makeup date. The Eagles also a home game against West Michigan Aviation Academy, and that one has been rescheduled for Jan. 7.

The team was not ready to play those games, given the circumstances, but with the Anhalts’ blessing, the Eagles returned to the court at MCC. Playing basketball again was therapeutic, in a way, for them. It was important to get things as close to normal as possible, even though in Luke’s case, normal is a “new normal.”

“It was really hard (going back to practice). He’s usually my partner in practice, so it was kind of weird having a different partner going to where it happened (on the floor) ... like, it was weird for sure,” Zach Zehr said. “It was kind of sad, but it was nice to be able to get shooting and get my mind off everything and play basketball and have a better reason to play basketball than just winning.

“It helps to play basketball for a friend who can’t play basketball anymore right now. I would say that, if anything, helps me.”

Luke said he is tired and sore, but that his memory is coming back to him. He said he does not remember everything, but he can recall more detail now.

“When I got home, saw my clothes all cut up from practice. For the first time, I remembered, like, chapel that day and I remembered getting ready for practice that day,” he said. “I just don’t remember practice at all -- that’s the biggest hole. And then in and out because of the drugs and all that stuff. But, mostly, it’s all coming together and I’m starting to see it full picture.”

During pregame, well before Luke arrived at Ray Cioe Gymnasium, Muskegon Catholic Central public-address announcer Mike Hornak led a prayer in which Luke’s recovery was the focus.

In the postgame handshake line, MCC players shook Luke’s hand in a show that they cared for his well-being.

“I went out there and hugged him at the end of the game, just wished him well. Told him that if he needs anything, Muskegon Catholic is here for him,” Crusaders head coach Lamar Jordan Jr. said. “We’ve always had a great relationship with Fruitport Calvary and that kind of showed there.

“I didn’t even tell the kids that they had to go up there to him (to Luke), they just automatically did it. You know, that’s just the faith that we have in our players here at Muskegon Catholic and how important God is in our lives at Muskegon Catholic, and it showed right there.”

The postgame speech in the Calvary Christian locker room was emotional. Coach Zehr gave props to his players for battling in the game but, again, the contest was secondary to the bigger picture: Luke is alive, and he was with his team again. Any handwringing that could have resulted from the Eagles’ first loss of the season was replaced by an overwhelming sense of relief.

After Zehr spoke to his team, Luke said a few words and the two embraced.

When the Eagles emerged from the locker room, Luke was greeted by cheers from the Calvary Christian contingent.

Luke is grateful for the show of support. He’s also discussed with his father the reality that he’s getting a second chance on life. His dad is stressing to him, “You’ve got to live (life) like you earn it.”

“People care,” Luke said. “Like, you can tell just walking in and after the game, the other team came and was like, ‘It’s great to see you.’ Like, people legitimately care and that’s huge.”

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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