Heartstopping moment: Yaeger administers CPR to Plano West runner

“Most people would say it was a heroic thing, that I jumped into action when I did,” Coppell Middle School East cross country coach Austin Yaeger said.“To me, I just felt like something needed to be done.”

On Oct. 13 at the District 6-6A Cross Country Championship meet in Flower Mound, Yaeger performed hands-only CPR to resuscitate a collapsed Plano West student athlete.

Due to Yaeger’s quick intervention, the athlete was able to promptly receive medical attention, and is currently in stable condition.

Yaeger was positioned at Station I on the cross country course when he noticed a varsity runner begin to slow. When he saw the runner fall to the ground and start to seize, he called for medical help. 

The runner continued seizing until he completely stopped, lying motionless on the trail.

“I experienced it with my dad before, he was diabetic and he had seizures, but he never stopped breathing, never stopped moving,” Yaeger said.

Yaeger jumped into action, relying on instinct to focus on even chest compressions. But located over a mile away from the start line with his phone battery trickling down, Yaeger was alienated from the outside world. 

There was no one else in close proximity, just Yaeger and the collapsed student. 

“On the inside, absolute chaos was going through my head,” Yaeger said. 

Yet he remained calm throughout the stressful situation, and continued to follow the guidance of medical personnel over the phone. Through his efforts, he was able to pull the runner back to consciousness. Medics arrived 10 minutes later to treat the student. 

With every passing second, cardiac arrest patients become more at risk for severe health complications, and even death.  Accordingly, all Coppell ISD coaches are required to be trained in CPR, so they can act immediately during an emergency. 

“We’re trained for that, but the minute where you have to actually apply it is completely different,” Coppell Middle School North coach LB Siebenmann said. “These kids who are running are top of top varsity boys, you just don’t expect them to have heart failure”

Yaeger’s handling of the situation is admired by his fellow Coppell coaches. He upholds a noble and modest character whether in an active emergency or in his day-to-day life leading physical education classes and coaching cross-country at CMSE.

“He’s one of the most selfless coaches I’ve ever worked with,” CMSE coach Kate Gilbert said. ”Of all the people this could have happened to, he’s the best.”

His inspiration for pursuing physical education stems from his own high school coach. Yaeger characterizes his old mentor, Stephen Guerrero as a man who led by example, and he still follows that example years later. 

“He was never a man of many words but he used his actions to show he cared for his student athletes,” Yaeger said. 

In his most formative years of life, Yaeger learned patience, modesty and how to be an effective leader from his kindred coach. But he initially doubted his abilities to be an effective coach. 

“You see so many coaches before you that have done great things and impacted lives,” Yaeger said. “I was wondering if I would be able to live up to something like that.”

But he has used these insecurities to push himself to excel at his job. He has taken on responsibility as a selected presenter at the annual Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (TAHPERD) convention to encourage healthy lifestyles.

There is much to learn from the passion Yaeger brings to cross country, and his quick crisis response skills. He shares the most important advice he learned from the experience.

“Stay calm and just focus,” Yaeger said. “It’s important to breathe and relax, knowing that the person in front of you is depending on you.” 

It is thanks to Yaeger that one heart continues to beat on.

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