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A defining moment

Valencia High’s sports medicine program sprang to action and saved a life

Posted: October 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Clayton Morgan wraps Jesse Pascolla's leg during Valencia High School's sports medicine class on Tuesday. Three students who took the course are credited with keeping sophomore Chibuzo Ikonte alive after he collapsed in the gym. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Last Wednesday started as a typical day in the sports medicine classroom at Valencia High School.

Students were busy tending to student athletes, applying ice packs, helping with stretches and taping joints.

But then basketball head coach Rocket Collins burst into the room with startling news: a basketball player, Chibuzo Ikonte, had collapsed and lost consciousness after suffering an apparent cardiac arrest.
A trio of students sprang to action.

Their efforts have been credited with saving Ikonte’s life.

The day

Nick Cromidas, a member of the basketball team and a student in the sports medicine program, was near the court when Ikonte collapsed.

“We had a couple of teammates who were sitting with him who called me over because they knew I was in the program,” Cromidas recalled Tuesday. “He was having trouble breathing and then he suddenly just collapsed.”
Cromidas began administering CPR in the form of chest compressions while Collins ran to get more help.

Back in the sports medicine classroom, senior Michael Monteleone was busy with his usual work: helping get student-athletes ready for practice.

“Coach Rocket came into the room and said, ‘I have an athlete down with chest pain,’” Monteleone said. “My first thought was, ‘Is this for real?’”

Monteleone grabbed an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, and rushed to the gym to see what he could do.
“When I got there, he was laying on the ground unconscious with no pulse,” Monteleone said.
Monteleone’s sudden departure from the room caught the attention of another senior, Colton Morgan.
“I was just helping with rehab and then Michael runs to get the AED machine so I thought something was up,” Morgan said. “I followed him into the gym and we noticed that a player had collapsed, so we rushed over to him.”
With Cromidas still administering CPR, Monteleone and Morgan began hooking up the AED to try to jump-start Ikonte’s heart.
Aided by CPR and the AED, Ikonte was brought back to consciousness before paramedics arrived.
“With the help of my two other classmates we helped him get back,” Cromidas said.

The program
All three students are part of the sports medicine program at Valencia High School, which for the last 11 years has grown and developed under the watchful eye of Joe Monteleone, the director of sports medicine and Michael’s father.

In the sports medicine program, about 70 students learn techniques to help Valencia’s student athletes, ranging from how to help athletes stretch properly to how to tape up ankles and knees to provide extra support.

“There’s a skill, an art to it,” Joe Monteleone said. “I always tell them when they’re taping that it’s an art form.

“Students also get real-world experience working and providing aid at the school’s sporting events.”
He said the program also gives students self-confidence in the field.

“To be able to have that confidence in yourself where you can reach down in yourself and help others in their time of need is huge,” he said.

The school’s program, so far the only of its kind in the William S. Hart Union High School District, has been up and running for 11 years and seeks to not only educate, but also to prepare students for a potential career in the field.

“What we tried to do is create something as a stepping stone for them,” Monteleon said.

Joe Monteleone was also present the day Ikonte collapsed but said credit for reviving the fallen player lies with the students.

“I was going to call 911,” he said. “And like the three guys were trained to do they jumped on it. There was no hesitation; they did it with confidence and within a few seconds the charge came through the AED and Chibuzo came back.”

Valencia High School Principal Paul Priesz praised the students and Joe Monteleone for their efforts.

“They saved a life, which is in itself a reward, but they knew what to do,” he said. “That’s the thing; Coach Monteleone didn’t even have to be there. If he wasn’t there it still would have happened because these students know what to do.

“They’ve been trained and he trains them well,” Priesz continued.

In the meantime, Ikonte appears to be on his way to recovery.

“I heard he’s stable and he’s doing well,” Joe Monteleone said.

Recognition and reflection

The actions and quick responses of Monteleone and his students will be officially recognized during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Hart district board.

Less than a week after the incident, all three students said the training they received and skills they learned in the sports medicine program were invaluable.

“They taught me to stay calm in certain situations like that and do what I was taught to do,” Michael Monteleone said. “And that helped me a lot.”

“I would not have been prepared at all (without the program),” Morgan agreed. “The first thing you had to do is just remember it all.”

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