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Track athlete who was saved grateful to coaches

Posted at 10:57 PM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 23:26:27-04

Caleb Perkins returned to the very spot on the Revere High School track where he collapsed and nearly died six weeks ago.

Normally, the 16-year-old speedster feels right at home on the black and white surface, but getting used to his new normal will take more time.

"It's just kind of surreal being back here just thinking about, it did happen like right around this area. I haven't been back on the track since then," Caleb said.

The teen has no memory of March 18, but on that afternoon, he finished the final lap of a challenging workout and then his life was forever changed.

He told a teammate that he felt tight. Moments later, he went down in a heap near the finish line.

For a split second, coaches wondered if Caleb-- known for his sense of humor-- was playing a joke.

"Usually I am doing something in a joking manner, wasn't no joke this time," he said.

The high school junior had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Assistant track coach Brian Racin rushed to his side.

"I started calling his name. I told him to get up. He didn't move," Racin recalled. "I had knelt down next to him, was calling his name and that's when I realized his breaths were really shallow."

Head coach Lyle Kniep dialed 911 while Racin started CPR.

Kniep told the operator that Caleb was not responding and took a breath about "every five or six seconds."

On the call, coaches can be heard repeatedly saying, "Caleb. Caleb. Caleb."

"He's one of our best athletes," Kniep said. 'It truly kind of says that awareness needs to be up. This can truly happen to anybody."

The coaches yelled to the athletic trainers who made the crucial decision to grab an automated external defibrillator (AED) from the field house. The AED was used to shock Caleb's heart a couple of times. Paramedics arrived, used an AED again and rushed him to Akron Children's Hospital.

Caleb was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic where he slowly improved and spent 19 days.

At first, doctors discussed the possibility of a heart transplant, but it was determined that wasn't necessary.

As Caleb regained consciousness, his parents only told him that he had taken a fall during track practice because they didn't want him to worry.

However, he jumped on social media and it didn't take long for Caleb to figure out he was dealing with something much more serious.

"I got on Twitter and I was tagged in the news clip. I saw that and I looked at my parents and said, 'You know, I think it was a little bit more than just a taking a fall at track.'"

Doctors told the family that the rapid response by the coaches and the use of the AED saved Caleb's life.

"We realized how blessed we are that he has a chance to live. We heard the statistics over and over. He should not be alive," said his mother, Lara Perkins. "This is what saved Caleb's life is the fast response of everybody involved."

Doctors found scarring at the bottom of Caleb's heart and diagnosed him with cardiomyopathy.

The teen now has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to keep his heart safe.

"If anything were to ever happen again, which it shouldn't, that will go off and it would save his life," Lara Perkins said.

Caleb said he will be forever grateful to the "guardian angel" coaches and athletic trainers who saved his life.

"Being a man of faith, I think God put me in the best position that I could have been in," he said.

The coaches said the scary experience also had an emotional impact on their lives.

"I have two kids of my own and it's one of those things where you go home and you give your kids a hug," Racin said.

"It was kind of a perfect storm of things where everybody kind of came together for Caleb to make sure that he was going to be okay and I can't wait to see what he accomplishes here in the future," Kniep added.

On May 16, a community event will be held to celebrate Caleb's life. It will take place from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Revere High School gymnasium.

Lara Perkins said she wants to create awareness about the importance of CPR and AEDs while also raising money for more of the life-saving devices on all Revere sports fields.

Caleb has even come with a clever name for the event: C.P.R., which in this case stands for "Caleb Perkins Revived."