View Full Version : Right skills, right place, right time

08-13-2006, 06:41 AM
Vikings Insider: Right skills, right place, right time Culpepper returns, if only for six plays

Eric Sugarman, the Vikings' new head athletic trainer, saved the life of a fellow Philadelphia Eagles employee three years ago.

Kevin Seifert
Last update: August 12, 2006 – 10:47 PM

As he turned swiftly into the parking garage, Eric Sugarman looked toward the passenger seat. The sound was sickening: his friend and colleague had fallen head-first onto the steering wheel. Now John Hatfield was unconscious. He wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

"At that moment," Sugarman said, "he was dead."

Monday night, scores of new faces will fill the Vikings sideline for the preseason opener against Oakland. One will be Eric Sugarman, the head athletic trainer whose quick thinking saved Hatfield's life three years ago when both men worked for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Hatfield, a former equipment manager at the University of Minnesota who now serves the Eagles in the same capacity, suffered a heart attack while Sugarman was driving him to the hospital. Sugarman performed CPR, maintaining his circulation and breathing until paramedics arrived.

"I'm an athletic trainer," said Sugarman, who joined the Vikings in January. "Fractures are OK, maybe a couple of stitches every once in a while. But I don't care to see life and death too much."

Hatfield, 61, speaks rarely about the episode but discussed it emotionally by telephone Saturday. His voice choked, Hatfield recalled his first conversation with Sugarman after the incident.

"I told him there is nothing I can buy him," Hatfield said, "nothing I can ever give him or do for him that could thank him for what he did. What he did for me is the most special thing. Every now and then, if something bad was happening, I would joke with him and say, 'You brought me back for this?' But he knows how I feel."

Which, suffice it to say, is much better than how Hatfield felt on that fateful May morning in 2003. Feeling ill after a predawn workout at the Eagles facility, he called Sugarman, who had just arrived at work. Sitting in the Eagles training room, Hatfield denied all symptoms of a potential heart attack. He simply was not feeling well, he said, and suggested visiting the team physician.

Situation deteriorates

The doctor's office wouldn't open for hours, so Sugarman and Hatfield decided to drive to an Eagles-affiliated clinic -- Pennsylvania Hospital in downtown Philadelphia, about 15 minutes away. As they motored down Interstate Hwy. 95, facing the early stages of rush hour, Hatfield voiced the magic -- and nearly tragic -- words.

"He says to me, 'Man, my left shoulder is killing me,' " Sugarman said. "I immediately knew what was going on, and I knew I was between a rock and a hard place. So I just put the pedal to the metal. I didn't want to alarm him, because I thought the stress could bring on an attack faster. So I just drove really fast."

Hospital construction made the emergency entrance difficult to find, so Sugarman pulled up to a back entrance often used by players. That door was closed, however, and a security guard pointed to a parking deck.

Hatfield remembers Sugarman pulling into the garage, going down one level, picking out a spot. And then ...

"That's when I 'died,' " Hatfield said.

Indeed, Hatfield collapsed onto the steering wheel in full cardiac arrest. Sugarman jumped out of the car, ran to the other side and tried pulling the 254-pound Hatfield to the ground.

"I learned what dead weight means," Sugarman said. "I couldn't move him an eighth of an inch."

Sugarman looked around. A young man had just pulled into the garage and helped pull Hatfield out. The man went running for help. Hatfield "was lifeless," Sugarman said.

A certified CPR instructor, Sugarman went to work in a real-life scenario for the first time.

"Talk about being on an island," Sugarman said. "There was nobody around. John is laying in the middle of the parking lot. There were oil stains all around him. I'm pounding on his chest, breathing for him. To this day, I have no idea how long I was doing it. I just kept saying to myself, 'When is that kid going to come back?' "

Suddenly, Hatfield made a snoring sound. "The happiest moment I have ever seen," Sugarman said.

It was shortlived. Hatfield stopped breathing again, but now a doctor pulling in for work noticed and came to help. They performed CPR together until an ambulance arrived, about 15 minutes after Hatfield collapsed. When the paramedics connected a defibrillator, "he was flat-lined," Sugarman said.

It took three sets of shocks to produce a consistent heart rate. Sugarman alternately was screaming encouragement and thinking about the son Hatfield had just adopted. "You're just thinking about how you have to value life," Sugarman said.

A special bond

Hatfield underwent an angioplasty, and his cardiologist credited Sugarman for preventing significant heart damage. The Pro Football Athletic Trainers Society awarded Sugarman its "Big Heart" award for heroism.

"I was just acting in the way that any person with my knowledge would have," Sugarman said. "But I think it's safe to say that we're friends for life."

Hatfield has lost 50 pounds since the episode and recently adopted his second child. "I'm the picture of health," Hatfield said Saturday.

"In today's world, I don't think a guy would always get what I got," Hatfield said. "I mean, how many times is someone going to be at work at 6 in the morning to help you through something like that? I've never known what to tell Eric Sugarman.

"It's like he answered someone's prayer."

Kevin Seifert • kseifert@startribune.com


08-13-2006, 11:40 AM

that's really a good story, nice to hear we have someone thats that calm under such a bad situation, good to have him watching our players backs

cant help but wonder "What if?" about what would have happened if we had someone like this 5 years ago in camp...

08-13-2006, 11:53 AM
:o WOW!!

08-13-2006, 04:43 PM
"westvirginiavikings" wrote:

:o WOW!!

That's about all I can say, too. WOW!!!! What a story and quite a guy! I can see why Childress wanted him around.

08-14-2006, 10:40 AM
Unreal.. That is a bit of a touching story.. Those 2 men have a bond for life now.. No matter where their lives take them, they will always be connected by that day.. To give another person life is the best gift you can give somebody..