PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The moments, now recalled as blur, couldn’t have fell into place any better.
It was the first time all season that Nikki Faulconer had the chance to see her 12-year-old daughter, Cidni O’Brien, play soccer. Being a full-time nurse, Nikki’s shifts often coincided with her daughter’s game. But on April 21, on a beautiful spring day at Lebanon’s Cheadle Lake Park, everything worked out.
And if it didn’t, Cidni wouldn’t be alive today.
After scoring the game-tying goal — a moment she now can’t remember — Cidni walked up to her step-father, Tim, who was the referee that day, and complained of chest pain. She said she had trouble breathing, so Tim directed her to the sideline.
On the other sideline, Nikki watched. She saw her daughter make her way to the bench. Nikki didn’t make much of it, even after her daughter first dropped — or flopped, as Nikki remembers — to the grass.
“She’s 12, she was tired, (I figured) she laid down on the grass because it was a nice day,” Nikki said.
Then she heard the assistant coach scream for help. Nikki immediately sprinted over, switching from mom to emergency nurse. Cidni was unresponsive, bleeding from her mouth and nose. Nikki searched for a pulse, but Cidni didn’t have one — she was going through cardiac arrest.
Nikki started CPR with another mom and nurse who happened to be watching. CPR, however, wouldn’t be enough to save Cidni’s life.
Elsewhere, about a quarter mile away, firefighters and paramedics at Station 34 in Lebanon were getting ready and racing over to the soccer fields. Thirty-seven seconds later, they arrived and immediately sprung into life-saving efforts. They used a defibrillator to counteract her ventricular fibrillation, “a heartbeat that’s not compatible with life,” according to Nikki.
Eventually, after other life-saving efforts, Cidni was stabilized at a local Lebanon hospital. The cause of her cardiac arrest remained unknown. Cidni was then helicoptered to OHSU’s Doerbecher Hospital in Portland.
A few days later, after echo cardiograms, ultrasounds and angiograms, experts found the cause. Cidni was diagnosed with anomalous aortic origin of a coronary artery, a rare heart defect that couldn’t go ignored. She had open-heart surgery on April 30.
Part of Cidni’s diagnosis meant that she’d need something by her side that wasn’t there the day of her cardiac arrest: an automated external defibrillator.
Once again, it was the Lebanon Fire District who stepped in after Cidni’s doctor reached out, asking if they let Cidni borrow an AED.
“When Dr. Kosmala called me to ask if LFD could loan out an AED for a few weeks I thought, we can do better than that!”, said Lebanon Fire Chief Bolen in a press release. Through LFCAIRS, the Lebanon Firefighters Community Assistance and Initial Relief Service, they were able to get Cidni a new AED.
It’s been months since Cidni’s cardiac arrest. With a defect like AAOCA, Nikki believes it was only a matter of time before it had an effect. But for it to happen on that day, at that place, couldn’t have been more perfect, she said.
“I’m so happy I have the training I had and that I chose that path in life to become a nurse and to keep her alive until they got there,” Nikki said of the Lebanon firefighters, “and the quick action from them, seeing her rhythm on the monitor so fast and knowing exactly what to do was awesome. Everything went as well as it could and I’m so grateful and amazed, I guess. She’s really lucky to be here.
“It was crazy, I mean one little thing being different — if she had not felt good, or ran to the bathroom or had been at a friend’s house or didn’t exert herself, who knows when it would’ve happened?”
A shared condition
Because it happened then, Cidni has been able to heal and move forward. She just wrapped up her latest soccer season. Talking to her, hearing her talk, you’d never guess what she went through over the past months.
Cidni still has her athletic aspirations, too. One day, she hopes to earn a scholarship and play college sports, just like Kamryn McIntosh.
In the fall of 2016 — her senior year — 17-year-old Kamryn signed a national letter of intent to run collegiately at Clemson University. During that time, however, the symptoms became more apparent. She was drained after running, passing out a little, she said, and hardly moving. Something was wrong, and she went to the doctor’s office to find out.
After a few tests, Kamryn learned the cause: she, too, had AAOCA. Surgery was scheduled immediately. Like Cidni, her athletic future appeared in jeopardy. She had her high school coach call the coaches at Clemson to tell them the diagnosis; she said she was too afraid to hear their response to do it herself. The staff quickly assured her that her scholarship was safe.
Over a year later, Kamryn was back on the track for the Tigers, running in the 400-meter, the 800-meter and the team’s relays. As a freshman she competed in both the indoor and outdoor NCAA National Championships, becoming an All-American.
Kamryn’s story — going from open-heart surgery to NCAA All-American — quickly spread across the country, all the way to Lebanon. After Nikki heard Kamryn’s story she decided to reach out. And when Kamryn heard Cidni’s story, she was heartbroken. She was also shocked to see how much of an impact her story had.
“It was crazy to me that somebody across the country heard my story and wanted my help,” Kamryn said. “When she first messaged me, I told my mom, ‘Someone from far away knows my story and wants to talk about me!”
Kamryn said it was the exact reason she decided to share her story in the first place: to help people who went through a similar experience.
“I was there for anything she needed,” Kamryn said. “She definitely used me: called me, texted me, kept in touch. Even after her surgery I helped her through her seeing her teammates and not being able to play — the same thing I had.”
And when Kamryn earned a spot in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, she figured they should meet in person.
“The situation on how I met them wasn’t the greatest,” Kamryn said, alluding to their shared heart conditions, “but I was really happy to talk to Cidni in person about what happened.”
Nikki added: “It was a big deal for Cidni to talk to someone who had been there and knew what it was like.”
It’s been two years since Kamryn had her surgery and she said she still deals with some ramifications. That’s why she thinks it’s important to stay in touch with Cidni.
“I’m still struggling,” Kamryn said. “Just like I do, she’s going to have her ups and downs.
“I keep in touch with her and let her know I’m still here.”
The one thing Kamryn and Cidni don’t share is the same sport. Though she hopes to play a college sport, Cidni hopes it’s on a soccer pitch, not a track. Kamryn supports that.
“Her mom has told me she’s a really good soccer player, so i’m going to let her rock with what she’s best at,” Kamryn said. “I can’t even get my own siblings to run track. If soccer is her thing, she can definitely go after it.”