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CPR Training Saves Youth Football Coach After Cardiac Arrest on Field

Taylor Cowan in the hospital

When Taylor Cowan started having chest pain in October 2022, he initially thought stress was the culprit.

After visiting his doctor and having labs drawn, there were no abnormal findings. The chest pain continued, and Cowan started experiencing one severe episode per week.

Five months later, in March 2023, Cowan had an episode that—in his own words—brought him to his knees.

“I thought I was having a heart attack,” he said. 

Concerned, he went to the emergency room, where they checked his labs. Cowan’s levels were normal.

In the best shape of his life, both Cowan and the doctors were puzzled at the findings. Cowan suspected stress again, as he had quit smoking just two weeks prior to this severe episode.

“After that episode, I decided to double down on my health,” said Cowan. “I was taking cold plunges, using the sauna, and strength training three to four days a week.”

The pain became more frequent, and Cowan went from having one painful episode a week to multiple episodes each week.

Cowan went in for another appointment with his cardiologist and had an MRI. The MRI revealed a likely reason for his pain: a myocardial bridge.

A myocardial bridge is a congenital heart defect. It happens when one of the arteries of the heart goes through the heart itself instead of resting on top of the heart muscle. The heart muscle then squeezes the artery, causing chest pain. For most, myocardial bridge is not a fatal condition. Many who have it aren’t actually aware of their condition, and a small percentage of those who have it will experience chest pain.

Even after starting medication to help ease his condition, Cowan still faced crippling pain almost daily. Nothing seemed to help. At this point, Cowan’s cardiologist put him on a new medication.

“At this point, it seemed like this was something I was just going to have to live with,” Cowan said.

The episodes became a little less frequent. When they did happen, they weren’t as painful.

Three weeks after seeing his cardiologist, Cowan went to coach football practice at Herriman High School.

“It was kind of an emotional weekend due to the fact that we lost a game, and we came to practice that next week with work on our mind and getting after some kids for not working hard enough,” Cowan said. “It was a hot day. I was doing a running back drill and started getting dizzy.”

That’s when Cowan collapsed.

Within two minutes, Heath Holverson started CPR on Cowan.

Holverson coaches the 9th grade football team at Herriman High and happened to be in the right place at the right time to help Cowan.

“I heard yelling and looked across the field and could see that someone had collapsed,” Holverson said. “I had a straight shot to where he was, so I went running over to Taylor. As soon as I got to him, I could tell he was in trouble.”

Initially, Holverson thought Cowan was having a seizure.

“I was rubbing him on the chest, and he didn’t respond,” he said. “I listened for breathing and couldn’t hear anything, so that’s when I knew I needed to start CPR.”
Holverson, Herriman High football coach

Seconds later, Kelsey Higgins, an athletic trainer for U of U Health’s Snowbird Clinic, was by Holverson’s side.

Higgins was covering for a colleague at the football practice, providing sideline coverage and on-field care for the athletes. When she heard someone had collapsed, she was on a different field than Cowan. Luckily, she got a ride from some students on a golf cart and was on the scene in no time.

“Heath was performing CPR and needed someone to take over for him, so I stepped in,” Higgins said. “911 was already on the phone. They had done all the right things.”

Thanks to their emergency training, Holverson and Higgins were able to give chest compressions and then utilize an AED to help stabilize Cowan while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

“It was a stressful situation,” Higgins said. “But you kind of just shut off your brain and do what you are trained to do.”

Herriman High requires emergency training for athletic coaches. This includes having access to—and learning how to use—lifesaving medical equipment. Thankfully, everything lined up perfectly for Cowan to get the care he needed in a timely manner.

“It was a miracle that it all happened right there and that we could save him,” Holverson said. “It’s a good reminder for every athletic program out there—training on these types of things literally saves lives.”
Holverson, Herriman High football coach

Cowan was unresponsive and without oxygen for about ten minutes.

“I don’t remember much of anything,” Cowan said. “I vaguely remember being in the back of an ambulance, and then waking up in the hospital room surrounded by family and friends.”

The cause of Cowan’s cardiac arrest that day remains unknown. But thanks to Vikas Sharma, MD, there is a path forward.

Sharma, an assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at University of Utah Health, has also helped Cowan coordinate his care and schedule myocardial bridge repair surgery on March 5.

While he waits for his surgery date, Cowan continues to keep himself as healthy as possible. He knows he has more life to live, more things to accomplish—and he wants to be ready to hit the ground running after surgery.

“I really wasn’t a religious or spiritual person before my cardiac arrest,” Cowan said. “But how was it that I was in the exact spot I needed to be that day, around people who knew how to do CPR and use an AED? It’s like God was putting people around me to save me, and I’m so grateful for that.”

Taylor Cowan with his support system