Trainer helps save Ohio high school basketball player having heart attack

Hometown Heroes

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — What began as a typical basketball game at Shaw High School ended with one of the team’s players fighting to stay alive.

“It was game day so it was very exciting,” said Zaharius Hillmon, 17.

One minute he was playing, but quickly realized the game felt different. Hillmon said he felt dehydrated, so he sat out of the game a few times as he became increasingly exhausted.

Then during halftime while in the locker room, he collapsed. The high school athletic trainer David Silverstein was called to help and found Hillmon being cradled by his teammates on the floor.

“I thought maybe he was having a seizure just because he had a glassed over look on his face,” Silverstein said. “Once I had them lower him so he was flat, I could take a look at his vitals. He wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse.”

Silverstein, on the job with the team for just a few weeks, said he quickly began CPR and did not stop until first responders arrived. He said there was a defibrillator available to use, but first responders promptly arrived with their own.

The entire ordeal was a shock to family who was watching the game through a live stream because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“You instantly go to your faith,” said NaSheema Anderson, Hillmon’s mother. “We started praying, asking for divine intervention.”

Hillmon was treated at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, where the family learned he had a heart attack, and a congenital heart defect. UH said is the second most common cause of sudden cardiac death among young athletes. 

Hillmon now wears a life vest to prevent sudden cardiac arrest and will soon need open heart surgery.

“The kid is strong,” said Victor Anderson. “He’s built with great substance.”

The grateful parents said they are thankful for the medical team and the athletic trainer who never gave up on their son.

“Maybe this was meant to be, maybe it was fate, maybe I was out there for a reason,” said Silverstein. “Whatever the reason was I’m glad that I was there.”

Silverstein said he saw Hillmon twice since the Jan. 12 incident and that Hillmon gave him a big hug.

“It’s God’s blessing that it happened like this,” Hillmon said.

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