Teaming Up for the Team

LeConte Partnership with Sevier County Schools Puts Safety First

Retreating to a corner in the gymnasium at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, athletic trainer Colt Jenkins was emotionally spent. He had just finished performing emergency CPR on a member of the girls’ basketball team.

Once Kendl Reagan had been rushed from the school to be airlifted to a Knoxville hospital, Jenkins had done all he could do and began to feel the full weight of what had just happened. He was quickly joined by a couple of student-athletes who embraced him in a show of support.

“It hit me harder than I think anything I had ever felt before,” Jenkins says. “I get very attached to these kids. I will do anything in my power to protect them with everything I’ve got and with anything I have available to me.”

Kendl’s mother has said that if it hadn’t been for the quick actions of Jenkins, her daughter might not be alive today. Jenkins doesn’t see himself as a hero but says he just did what he was trained to do.

Safety as a Priority

Saving Kendl’s life was not something that happened by chance. The crucial moment on that February night was the culmination of a longstanding partnership between a school system willing to invest in the safety and well-being of its students and a hospital committed to partnering in that mission.

In recent years, the Sevier County School System has increased education for coaches. In key locations, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are now available to deliver an electric shock to the heart in a cardiac emergency.

That’s in addition to partnering with LeConte Medical Center’s sports medicine program, brought on board in 2001 to place athletic trainers in each of Sevier County’s five high schools. “We have made many updates and enhancements to the program since then,” says Tim Hoskins, Covenant Health sports medicine manager.

Guardians of the Game

Hoskins says LeConte’s athletic trainers are skilled in sports injury prevention and know how to identify and treat many common and critical problems on the court and the field. Not only are they trained in emergency cardiac care, they are also certified in ImPACT (immediate post assessment concussion testing), an FDA-approved protocol for addressing concussions.  

“We administer a pre-season baseline test at a non-injured state to gather the best testing information,” Hoskins says. “When an injury occurs, we will, in conjunction with a treating physician, administer a post-injury test once the athlete is asymptomatic.  If everything checks out, the athlete will be released to the TSSAA ‘return to play’ protocol which is a five-day progressive return. This is a safety measure to ensure that the athlete is truly symptom-free before we allow a return to sport.”

Jenkins has been Gatlinburg Pittman’s assigned athletic trainer for three years, and Kendl was the first student he worked with long before her collapse happened in February.

“I don’t think people realize that these athletic trainers go to 95 percent of sporting events,” says Kendl’s mom, Betsy Reagan. “If soccer is going on at the school and a basketball game is going on, he walks back and forth between the two, and he’s on the premises checking on both games.”

Hoskins says more great things are in the works for the sports medicine program. A new app allows athletes to receive personalized exercise, strength, and stretch plans that they can access easily on their smartphones.

“It sends a text to the athlete’s phone, they open it up, it opens up in MedBridge GO, and all their exercises are there,” Hoskins says. “We can do education; we can document that they’ve completed their exercises for the day, and they can interact with us – they can send us a message back.”

Another new feature being implemented in schools is virtual paperwork. Parents or guardians can sign forms quickly and easily online to be accessed electronically at practice and during games.

No More Time Out

A four-sport athlete and a valedictorian in her class, Kendl is passionate about athletics, her faith, and mental health. Her mom says Kendl spends a lot of time making sure others are okay, and when Kendl is the one who needs help, it’s a comfort to know Colt is there. He has provided medical help in moments of crisis on the court and emotional support as Kendl prepared to get back in the game this year.

“We love Colt, and we’re so grateful that there is a program in place for athletic trainers to be at the facility all the time,” Betsy Reagan says. “They’re a very critical part of the sports that go on in the schools to make sure that our kids are safe.”

After Kendl’s medical emergency on the court, she was eventually diagnosed with neuro cardiogenic syncope, a condition in which the body loses the ability to control its blood pressure. Caused by low salt levels in athletes, it’s usually nonproblematic, but in Kendl’s case it was severe.

For Jenkins, the day she returned to school after being cleared by a cardiologist was just as important as the night he had seen her through the crisis.

“Everything from that night was replaced with that one moment,” Jenkins says. “It was just a pure joy to know that she was okay and to know that she was safe.”

While Kendl makes plans to pursue a career in the medical field after graduation, Jenkins prepares for the next school year, renewing his commitment to the safety and well-being of the students who have been entrusted to him.

“I’ve had a lot happen to me,” Jenkins says. “I’ve had to battle of a lot of injuries and a lot of health issues, and this was definitely a very big eye-opener that life is short, life is fleeting, but it’s also very beautiful, so never take what you have for granted.”

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