UCR athletic trainers lauded for life-saving efforts at tennis championship

The two acted quickly in reviving a referee who fell unconscious

May 21, 2019
Author: Imran Ghori
May 21, 2019

As athletic trainers at UC Riverside, Tony Ontiveros and Jessika Hunt have long emphasized the importance of teaching CPR and first aid to their coaches.

They demonstrated those lessons and years of training when they were suddenly called to provide medical aid to a man who collapsed at a recent tennis conference championship in Indian Wells. Their actions were instrumental in saving his life, according to witnesses and medical officials.

Ontiveros, UCR’s associate athletics director, and Hunt, an associate athletics trainer, were staffing the medical tent at the Big West Tennis Conference Championships, hosted by UCR, when they were called into action on the afternoon of April 26.

Jessika Hunt and Tony Ontiveros
Jessika Hunt and Tony Ontiveros. (Imran Ghori/UCR)

Lindsay Gonzales, a Cal State Fullerton athletic trainer called to tell them that one of the conference officials had gone down. Around the same moment, the head coach from UC Davis ran into the tent to identify the man as John Bramlett, the head referee at the tournament.

“Jessika immediately runs out,” Ontiveros said. “She goes on a full sprint to find him on the court.”

Ontiveros grabbed an automatic external defibrillator and followed Hunt out to a concrete walkway between two tennis courts where Bramlett had fallen unconscious due to what was later diagnosed as a heart attack.

Hunt had already begun rescue breaths, taking over for Gonzales. Mei Narasaki-Jara, an assistant coach from Cal State Northridge, delivered chest compressions. Ontiveros cut Bramlett’s shirt open, placed the pads on his chest, and delivered a shock with the defibrillator.

“It’s just automatic,” Hunt said. “You just do what you’re trained to do.”

Bramlett’s face was purple and grey, he had no pulse, and he still wasn’t breathing, Ontiveros said.

Ontiveros and Hunt continued to administer CPR while Jackson Smidt, an athletic trainer from UC Santa Barbara, used a pulse oximeter to check Bramlett’s oxygen levels. They saw a small movement and Bramlett started to breathe.

“You slowly start to see him having more color to his face,” Ontiveros said.

Hunt described the situation as “all hands on deck.” Jilian Christian, a UCR assistant athletic trainer, helped with crowd control. Others called for assistance while spectators held up umbrellas to provide shade in the 100-degree weather.

“It was a really amazing group effort,” Hunt said.

By the time paramedics arrived, Bramlett was able to talk. He was transported to a hospital where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery a few days later, Ontiveros said.

Ontiveros and Hunt later got a chance to talk to Bramlett on the phone and said he was in good spirits and thanked them for their actions.

Bramlett, who returned home on May 20 after more than three weeks in the hospital, said he gets emotional in talking about that day.

“They saved my life,” he said. “Right now, I still break up. Because of Tony, Jessika, and the other athletic trainers, I get to see my grandkids; I get to see my kids.”

Bramlett said his surgeon told him that 98% of patients who suffer that kind of heart attack don’t survive, and the shock that Ontiveros delivered with the defibrillator probably saved his life.

He said he’s amazed by the quick response from all who helped. Bramlett noted that his family already had a relationship with UCR because his son, daughter, and grandson are all alumni.

They feel even closer now, said Amy Bramlett, his daughter, who graduated in 1990.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have more time with my dad,” she said of the athletic trainers.

Ontiveros said he feels blessed they could help.

He and Hunt are first aid instructors for the Red Cross who have been certified for more than 20 years. However, both said this is the first time they’ve dealt with a cardiac emergency of this sort. Tennis tournaments usually involve sprained ankles, broken bones, or concussions.

“I think it really spotlighted the capability of our profession, what we’re able to do, and why It’s important to have athletic trainers there to take care of our athletes and our officials,” Hunt said.

Dennis Farrell, commissioner of the Big West Conference, praised the actions of Ontiveros, Hunt, and the others who rushed in to help.

“As a witness to John Bramlett’s medical emergency and the response from everyone who attended to him, I have never in my 39 years with the conference been more proud of the courage, selflessness, and professionalism displayed by the six of you,” he said in an email. “You literally saved a life and provided inspiration to many others who were bystanders to your work.”