Rodeo can be a dangerous, even deadly sport, but rodeo probably saved A.J. St. Goddard’s life last Friday night. The 20-year-old University of Montana Western student had just finished his bareback ride on Medina Gold at the NILE Rodeo when he collapsed after being set down by his pickup rider.
“The last thing I remember is taping up my buddy, Buck,” St. Goddard said from his Billings Clinic hospital bed Wednesday. When St. Goddard collapsed, EMTs present at the event in case of injury strapped him to a backboard and rushed him into a waiting ambulance. As his girlfriend, Tiffany Sinclair, stepped into the ambulance to ride with him, the EMTs told her to get out. St. Goddard’s heart had stopped.
“I kept wanting to touch him and be in there,” Sinclair said through tears as she recalled watching the EMTs work. “It seemed like it took forever. I was just begging him to come back. He couldn’t leave.” The healthy young athlete had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. It’s not a heart attack, which is more or less a cardiac plumbing problem. Cardiac arrest is caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart.
According to the American Heart Association, sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death among adults over the age of 40 in the United States and other countries. In the United States alone, roughly 350,000 people die every year from the affliction. Half of men and 60 percent of women who suffer sudden cardiac arrest die when it strikes.
To prevent trauma to St. Goddard’s brain, doctors at Billings Clinic used drugs to induce a 24-hour coma. The idea is to reduce blood flow to sections of the brain damaged when St. Goddard quit breathing, allowing time for them to heal and any swelling to subside.
Without oxygen, brain cells die. The longer the brain goes without oxygen, the worse the trauma to the brain. Most patients who go without oxygen to their brains for 10 minutes never regain consciousness, according to the American Medical Association.
“The scary part was how much oxygen he lost to the brain,” said St. Goddard’s father, Jay. “The machines were running him for a while.” While St. Goddard was in a coma, his parents, Jay and LeAnn, were rushing from Browning, where they had been attending Blackfeet activist Elouise Cobell’s funeral. “It’s probably the fastest drive I’ve ever made to Billings,” Jay said.