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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)

BARTONVILE - Dalton Heathcoat felt fine Saturday during most of the first part of Bartonville Limestone High School football practice. He left the field in the back of an ambulance and lucky to be alive.

Less than an hour into the 8 a.m. workout, Heathcoat requested and was given permission to use the restroom, located adjacent to the Rockets' practice field. Minutes later a coach found him, face down on the floor and with only a faint pulse and respirations. The school's athletic trainer, on site for the practice, was summoned and initiated what may have turned out to be live-saving CPR.

A Bartonville police officer was seconds away when notified and was the first emergency responder to arrive.

Heathcoat's vital signs were said to be improved before he was loaded into the ambulance.

"I don't remember any of it," Heathcoat said from his home on Monday. "I remember going to the bathroom. The next thing I remember was waking up in the trauma room."

Frightening call

His parents, Todd and Kristi Heathcoat, were home when Limestone coach Darin Driscoll phoned from the practice field. Todd, a third-shift worker, was sleeping when Kristi took the call.

"She told me Dalton was unresponsive at practice, and I figured that meant he took a hard hit and got his bell rung," said Todd, a former Junior Football League coach. "We drove up to the school, and as soon as we got into the parking lot we could see all kinds of emergency vehicles and people. You get concerned when you know they're there because of your son."

Dalton initially was taken to Unity Point Methodist in Peoria. Kristi recalls some anxious minutes upon their arrival.

"When you walk into the trauma room and see the chaplain, a lot of thoughts run through your mind," she said.

Dalton subsequently was transferred to the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at OSF Saint Francis hospital, where his condition continued to improve. A battery of medical tests indicated that the incident was most likely related to extreme dehydration that contributed to a reduced blood flow.

"There was plenty of water at practice. We know he drank water at practice, so that had nothing to do with it," Todd said. "The doctors said it was more of a long-term thing. He most probably hadn't eaten right or consumed enough fluids in the days and hours leading up. It was a combination of factors."

Dalton also suffered a concussion, likely from his fall to the bathroom floor. He was released to his home on Sunday afternoon.

"I still feel a little weak, but overall I feel good," he said.

Stricken suddenly

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior running back and defensive back said he had no indication of what was about to come as he went through individual station drills on Saturday morning.

"Everything was good," Dalton said. "I had a little bit of an upset stomach, then I started to feel a little pain in my chest, and suddenly I had to go to the bathroom."

Assistant coach Ken Burns entered the blockhouse facility minutes later as part of the coaching staff's routine sweeps following bathroom breaks.

"I went in to make sure the kids that went in made it back out, and I was going to fill up a water bottle, and I saw Dalton lying on the floor, face down with his arms at his sides," Burns said. "He barely had a pulse. I immediately yelled for Angie."

Angela Vollmer is in her second school year as Limestone's full-time athletics trainer. A star basketball player at the school before her graduation in 2003, she went on to Millikin University and received her athletics trainer certification, then earned a master's degree in exercise physiology at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

Vollmer was yards away when she heard Burns' yells for help.

"The tone of his voice told me it was serious," Vollmer said.

Vollmer declined to specifically discuss Dalton's condition when she arrived or what actions she took. Burns assisted during those first few critical minutes.

"We hurried up and cut off all his equipment and she started doing CPR," Burns said. "She was in control. She knew exactly what to do."

Todd and Kristi have a big-picture understanding as to what Vollmer did for their son.

"Based on everything I've been told, she probably saved his life," Todd said.

Plan in place

Vollmer said it was a case of training, practice and preparation.

"It went just like our emergency action plan that we've practiced many times before," she said. "Everyone did what they were supposed to. Everything went the way you hope it does."

Per the football team's emergency plan, assistant coach Charlie Zimmerman phoned 911 and Driscoll opened the gates so that emergency vehicles could access the area. Bartonville police officer Andy Andrews was the first emergency responder.

"When they got (Dalton) in the ambulance, his condition already was better than when I found him," Burns said.

Dalton is scheduled for a series of follow-up medical tests. For now he's not attending school.

"From the trainer to all the coaches and everyone involved, they've all touched the hearts of our family," Kristi said. "We're so very thankful."

Physicians ruled Dalton out of football for the remainder of the season. He missed the last six games of his sophomore season with a fractured kneecap.

"What I'm most upset about is being out of football, again," he said. "After getting hurt last year I was really excited and looking forward to playing again this season."

RELATED: Blog: Every Athlete Deserves a Certified Athletic Trainer

Lonnie Schwindenhammer can be reached at 686-3214 or lschwindenhammer@pjstar.com

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