By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Luke Slavens celebrated his 20th birthday on Jan. 21 like most college sophomores.
The University of Iowa men’s basketball manager went to guard CJ Fredrick’s apartment and watched basketball games with forward Jack Nunge and other managers. All things considered, it was somewhat of a subdued celebration. Especially considering that nine days earlier, Slavens nearly died.
In fact, he would have, if not for a quick response from Brad Floy, athletic trainer for men’s basketball, and several first responders who were already at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the Indiana-Iowa women’s basketball game later that day.
Here’s what happened in the early afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 12:
The Hawkeye men’s basketball team was nearly done with a shooting drill in the practice gym on the second floor of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Slavens was under a basket, rebounding for Joe Wieskamp, Joe Toussaint, and Patrick McCaffery. The three Hawkeyes weren’t missing many shots, so Slavens was essentially planted under the hoop.
Then Slavens experienced a dizzy spell. Wieskamp told him to sit in a chair; moments later, Toussaint asked Floy to check on the manager.
“He was feeling light-headed and dizzy,” Floy said. “In the middle of a question, he stopped answering and looked like he was going to faint. He was pale.”
Floy and student athletic trainer Zoe Hicks slid Slavens to the court and monitored his pulse and breathing.
The breathing stopped.
Quickly, an emergency action plan was executed. The Hicks called 9-1-1, Floy grabbed an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which is always near at practice and games, strength and conditioning coach Bill Maxwell informed athletic trainer Jennie Sertterh, who was getting ready for the women’s game, and coaches cleared the practice gym.
After applying the AED pads, the message said, “shock advised.” It was delivered. Then Floy began chest compressions while a public safety officer supplied rescue breaths.
Meanwhile, Slavens was in a dream-like state, thinking he was riding in the back seat of his family’s car. When he arrived home in the dream, his father told him to wake.
“At that point, I could feel myself getting pumped,” said Slavens, who swiped the non-rebreather mask off his face. “It wasn’t like a spiritual thing, it was like a dream. When I woke, I knew where I was and I wasn’t startled. I felt refreshed and alert.”
Five minutes passed, then Slavens felt a tingling sensation moving from his hands up his arms.
“I couldn’t move or feel my arms for 10 to 15 minutes,” Slavens said. “They told me to breath and that helped. Once I got to the emergency room, I was ready to go back to practice.”
Doctors had other plans. Soon Slavens’ hospital room filled with players, staff, and coaches, including head coach Fran McCaffery and his wife, Margaret.
“Every player and coach who was feeling up to it visited me in the hospital right away,” Slavens said. “I had six players that night watching the Packers game with me in my hospital room.”
When Slavens was 10-years-old, he was diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, a genetic disorder where electrical activity within the heart is abnormal. As a high school student-athlete in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Slavens participated in golf, football, and basketball. Living with Brugada syndrome had never been an issue before Jan. 12.
Two days after the first episode, on Jan. 14, Slavens had surgery to place an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) high on his right chest. He was discharged from University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics on Wednesday, then attended practice Thursday, Jan. 16, where University of Iowa Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair Gary Barta visited.
“It makes you realize how much of a family it is at the University of Iowa,” Slavens said. “You get appreciated as a manager, but it isn’t said every day. When this sort of thing happens, people let you know how much they care about you.”
Slavens is not allowed to drive a vehicle for six months. He can’t lift any weight more than 10 pounds for the next 4-6 weeks. Instead of working on-court drills in practice, Slavens will film practice and compile statistics. A pre-business major, he intends to remain a manager for this season and two more as a junior and senior.
“Fran was one of the first people in the emergency room,” Slavens said. “He said, ‘We want you back, but we want you back the right way. Take your time, relax.”
Slavens has time. A lot of it, and that’s a good thing. He has contemplated the alternative.
“I literally fell into Brad’s arms,” Slavens said. “He teaches CPR, so it could not have been a better circumstance for me. I was so fortunate.
“When I heard my heart stopped for two minutes, I thought I really could have died. If I was anywhere else, I probably would have. It is scary to think about that, at the same time, I was given a second chance.”
By DARREN MILLER