Athletic trainer saves HS basketball player's life after teen had a heart attack during game

Posted at 11:52 AM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 11:52:24-04

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Seventeen-year-old Zaharius Hillmon has basketball in his blood. His mom, Nasheema Anderson, said that he comes from a long line of basketball players.

"Since he could walk, probably before he could walk, he's been playing basketball," Anderson said.

Hillmon is a senior at Shaw High School and the starting guard for the varsity basketball team. Anderson said he has received countless physicals over the years.

"When everything checks out, you think everything checks out and they should go as hard as they can and play and participate," she said.

Zaharius was playing as hard as he could during a game on Jan. 12. Anderson was watching that game from a livestream while she was at home due to COVID-19 protocols.

"He is, like, stealing the ball. He was dunking the ball. He was, just, having a great game. It was the best game that I had seen him play all season," Anderson said.

While Anderson is used to hearing cheers for "Z" during his games, she never expected to hear a student call out her name over the livestream.

"The young man was on the other line saying 'Zaharius’s mom! Zaharius’s mom! Hurry and get here. He is passed out and he's having a seizure,'" she said.

Zaharius collapsed in the locker room at halftime. David Silverstein is contracted out by Shaw High School as an athletic trainer. He had just been hired a couple of weeks prior to Jan. 12. Within seconds, he rushed to the locker room to begin treatment.

"He's down on the floor. His head is being cradled by a couple of his teammates," he said. "I check his pulse and find that he doesn't have one."

He immediately started CPR, something he has always practiced for but never actually performed on a person who needed it.

"I did that until East Cleveland EMS got there," he said.

Hillmon and Anderson were rushed to University Hospitals. Doctors found that Hillmon had a congenital heart defect that past physicals didn't catch.

"He had a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest," Anderson said.

Zaharius now back at home and recovering from heart surgery to fix the defect.

"He didn't know how good he could feel because he had always had this condition that he never knew he had and, so now, he feels like a brand new person," Anderson said.

Anderson said she hopes that parents will start asking for EKGs during their child's routine physical. She's also hopeful that more people will learn CPR.

"Everybody should learn CPR at some point in their life," she said.

She is thankful that Silverstein was there at the right time, as he was just hired weeks prior.

"He did it [CPR] to perfection and he saved my son's life and I will forever be truly grateful to him," she said.

Silverstein said he is just happy Zaharius is feeling better.

"Some greater power has big things planned for him, but it certainly feels great," Silverstein said.

March is National Athletic Trainer Month. It is meant to bring awareness to the important work of athletic trainers.

This story was originally published by Jessi Schultz on WEWS in Celveland.