Coach saves teen having heart attack during swim practice

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Claire Luning, 16, was training at swim practice when she suffered a heart attack in the pool. (WLS)

Claire Luning, 16, was training with the joint Walter Payton-Jones College Prep swim team when she suffered a heart attack in the pool; it was the quick action of her coach and teammates that saved her life.

On Aug. 28, Luning dove into the butterfly leg of a Jones-Payton practice relay; 40 seconds later, she finished, hanging on the lane marker while having a heart attack.

"It felt like I couldn't breathe, that I was not taking in enough oxygen and I started to panic but I kept going for some reason but it kind of went fuzzy," Luning said.

She was pulled from the water not breathing and unresponsive.

Now at Lurie Children's Hospital, she sports a sling to keep from jostling the defibrillator implanted in her that day, which will now keep Long QT Syndrome at bay - a disorder which can cause chaotic heartbeats. Her coach brought her back from the brink by performing CPR on the pool deck.

"I noticed the signs of life were not there, like no breathing, no pulse, her eyes were wide open - that's when I knew this was a big emergency," said Mac Varilla, Jones-Payton swim coach.

The 25-year-old learned CPR 10 years ago as a teenaged Chicago Park District lifeguard.

Now, as her grateful - but still slightly traumatized - parents look on, Luning wants to use her brush with death to push CPR training.

"I think maybe my experience has made it more real, that this really does happen and maybe not to somebody you know, maybe somebody on the street will just collapse - you want to know what to do so you are not helpless to that situation," Luning said.

Luning will never return to competitive swimming - her cardiologist says that while CPR saved her, the junior's syndrome would have been identified if she had an inexpensive electro cardiogram (EKG).

"It would have shown something absolutely, her EKG, every EKG Claire has had has been abnormal," said Dr. Kendra Ward, Lurie Children's pediatric cardiologist.

According to the Oakbrook Terrace-based Midwest Heart Foundation, more than 7,000 children die of sudden cardiac arrest every year.

But most children are never screened for heart risks during routine physicals.

For more information:

Midwest Heart Foundation/Young Hearts 4 Life
http://www.yh4l.org/

Max Schweitz Foundation/Screens for Teens
http://www.maxandthewildthings.com/

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healthhealthteenheart attackChicago - Old Town
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