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VA clinicians save Pickleball player’s life

Tannini with his Heroes
Pete Tannini stands in the middle of the four individuals responsible for saving his life on May 12, 2022. Each person was presented with a challenge coin from the Executive Director of White River Junction VA Healthcare System Dr. Brett Rusch on July 20, 2022 when everyone was reunited for the first time since Tannini's heart attack. From Left to Right: Nicki Escott, Jim McCracken, Pete Tannini, Dr. Joel Elzweig and Justin Joslin.

It was an unseasonably hot May afternoon in Hartford, Vermont and Maxfield Sporting Complex was busy with lacrosse games, tennis matches and pickleball.

After a long New England winter Pete Tannini and his partner Jim McCracken were excited to be outside with friends playing pickleball again, but on this Thursday afternoon the game ended drastically different than they expected.

Tannini was experiencing neck, shoulder and arm pain intermittently throughout the week but thought nothing of it.

“I would get mild pain on my left side and occasional numbness in my fingertips.” Tannini recalls. “I felt it a bit during the game, but thought it was general soreness from playing.”

McCracken was Tannini’s pickleball teammate and noticed Tannini go from okay to collapsing in a matter of seconds. McCracken catches Tannini and lowers him to the ground while those around them sought help.

Dr. Joel Elzweig was nearby at a tennis court warming up when he heard someone shouting, “Is there a doctor?”

Tannini was in luck because Dr. Elzweig is a practicing Hospitalist at the White River Junction VA Medical Center and came over to see what kind of assistance was needed.

“I looked over and saw you, I knew right away immediate action needed to be taken.” Dr. Elzweig says to Tannini at their reunion on July 20, 2022.

While Dr. Elzweig checked for a pulse, others from nearby courts and fields came running. Dr. Elzweig did not feel a pulse and immediately began CPR. He told McCracken to begin breaths and with Dr. Elzweig’s coaching McCracken continued to give breaths when appropriate.

Within seconds someone was monitoring for a pulse and another was at McCracken’s side. Dr. Elzweig looks up and to his surprise those two individuals were fellow colleagues at the White River Junction VA Medical Center: Nicki Escott, Physician Assistant and Justin Joslin, Emergency Department Registered Nurse.

The three clinicians and Tannini’s partner continued CPR until the local EMT’s arrived. Tannini’s heart was restarted after approximately ten minutes of continuous chest compressions and breaths. He was then quickly taken away by the ambulance.

On July 20, 2022 Tannini and McCracken came to the White River Junction VA Medical Center and were able to shake the hands of Dr. Elzweig, Escott and Joslin. The heroic efforts of these three clinicians and McCracken not only saved Tannini’s life that day in May, but kept blood and oxygen pumping through him effectively enough that there is no lingering loss of physical or mental function.

“We were in the right place, at the right time.” Dr. Elzweig said.

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