Last year, Alden Moreton and his dad, Paul, decided to train for and run the Dominion River Rock 5k in Richmond.
Then 12 years old, Alden was on both the football and lacrosse team at his school and would often go on runs with his dad. Together they decided it’d be a fun and manageable race.
When race day rolled around, Alden’s mom Angie was prepped at the finish line with her video camera to capture the moment her son and husband would cross and complete their first race.
Unfortunately things didn’t pan out the way they planned. About 100 yards from the finish line, Alden turned to his dad and said, “Dad, I’m tapped out. I see blue spots.”
He then fell face first on the pavement.
His dad thought that Alden might have fainted due to dehydration, but it soon became evident that it was something more severe.
Alden was going into cardiac arrest.
Luckily, a race official saw him go down and immediately called for an ambulance and an AED (automated external defibrillator). Within seconds, an EMT and a nurse were performing CPR, and minutes later his heart was shocked with the defibrillator.
Alden was breathing by the time he was put into the ambulance, but not out of the woods yet.
An Unexpected Event
There was no family history of heart problems, so hearing that their son had gone through cardiac arrest that originated in his left coronary artery was shocking. Still, there was some relief that there appeared to be a clear diagnosis and a team of physicians led by James Gangemi, MD, who knew exactly how to deal with the issue.
After performing some scans and an MRI, Gangemi sat with both the parents and Alden to explain his plan, as well as the two back-up plans he had in case something unexpected happened. His goal was to have this procedure be a one-time “re-plumb” of the left coronary artery. Alden was very involved in the conversation and remained in good humor throughout the process.
A Rare Case
Gangemi says he sees fewer than 10 cases such as Alden’s each year, and near-death experiences such as that experienced by Alden are rare. Still, patients almost always need a relatively complex surgical procedure involving the aortic valve.
Recovery after surgery was a challenge that Alden shined through. It started with the team of doctors, students and nurses challenging him to get up and walk within the hospital and slowly easing back into physical activity over the summer.
After six months, Alden was back into contact sports. Still, the recovery was not yet complete. Plays and runs that used to be easy were leaving him out of breath. But Alden rose to the challenge and just this past March completed a 5K race in just 25 minutes. He’s now back in midfield on his lacrosse team and plans to play as a receiver come football season.
Alden’s mom, meanwhile, has been raising AED awareness and educating people within her community about how to be prepared if a child or adult goes into cardiac arrest.
Alden’s had two follow-up MRIs, and is moving into just one appointment a year with UVA pediatric cardiologist, Dan Schneider, MD.
On May 17, he plans to run the Dominion River Rock 5k race again alongside the nurse who performed CPR on him, the woman who borrowed a firefighter’s cell phone to call his mom, and a man who helped pull him onto the grass. And, of course, his dad.
In His Own Words
What makes you want to continue in sports?
“I could stop. It would be a safe ending to a almost touching story. But I won’t. The Harry Potter books did not end once his head healed; it ended when he beat the bad guys. All my life I have been one step behind everyone else and come up one inch short. Now I have the chance to get in front.”A lot of people would be afraid to go back into sports after such an experience and surgery. Does this experience hold you back from going all out in sports now?
“I see so many other people who have to work so little give up because they decide that it is not worth it. I’m here to say that it will not be that easy for me. Since surgery I have had to work two or even three times harder than them, and I still struggle to be better than them. My life would be so simple if I were to give up.
But I will not fail, I want people to see me betting against loaded dice and still being the best out there and say, ‘there goes the fighter, someone who does not let his circumstances make him anything less than the best.’ I want to fall asleep knowing that I have proved that.”