A quick-thinking coach trained in the use of CPR and a defibrillator helped save the life of a teenager whose heart stopped working properly during a basketball practice at St. Mother Teresa High School in Barrhaven.

The incident, which occurred last fall, illustrates the importance of training and having the proper equipment such as a defibrillator available, said Christiane Doherty, a spokesperson for a foundation that provides both resources to schools.

Zachary Legault is a sports-mad Grade 10 student who had never exhibited signs of heart issues.

Legault was trying out for the St. Mother Teresa basketball team last October in the gym after school when coach Mike Rowley noticed the teen was short of breath.

He told Legault to sit out for a minute on the sidelines, said Doherty.

There was a thud across the gym when Legault collapsed face first, gasping for air.

The assistant coach called 911 and a fellow student was dispatched to run to the school lobby for the defibrillator machine.

As a basketball, soccer and track and field coach at the high school, Rowley had undergone mandatory training in first aid, CPR, and the use of an AED, or automated external defibrillator. While his real-world experience offering medical treatment before that day had been limited to rolled ankles, dislocated shoulders and the like, the Grade 12 English teacher began chest compressions on Legault.

“Having taken first aid every three years for the last 20-plus years … your instincts kick in, I guess, sort of almost subconsciously,” said Rowley.

An automated external defibrillator machine, which analyzes heart rhythms and can deliver an electric shock if necessary, had been donated to St. Teresa and other Ottawa schools in 2009 through the ACT Foundation and community partners.

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