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Life-saving experience

Despite health scare, Santheson's heart, soul into helping others

Longtime coach, recreation director, umpire, photography teacher lives to gives back
By Mark Haskell | Apr 08, 2020
Courtesy of: Keri Herer for MaineHealth Kyle Santheson, with camera in hand.

Waldoboro — Having worked closely with the Medomak Valley varsity softball team for years, Kyle Santheson certainly has felt his heart skip a beat once or twice with the stress of close, intense, down-to-the-wire high school diamond games.

However, what he felt on Sept. 28, 2018 was much different.

For the 58-year-old Waldoboro resident, the day started like many others, though that week he was finishing a weeklong photography class at the Maine Media Workshop in Rockport.

“I accompanied one of my classmates out to photograph the Breakwater Light[house in Rockland],” he said. “By the time I got back, I felt a little tired, but no worse for the wear.”

Santheson dozed off in class later in the day and he said when he awoke, he “did not feel right [and felt] dizzy.”

“It was lights out from there,” he said.

Santheson had slipped into cardiac arrest. Which several of his classmates — many of which he had met only four days earlier — recognized almost immediately as he slumped over in his chair.

They assisted him to the floor, began CPR and called 911.

Minutes later, NorthEast Mobile Health Services arrived and defibrillated Santheson, who said, “I apparently woke up almost immediately.”

While most of what proceeded was a blur, Santheson was transported to Penobscot Bay Medical Center and later lifeflighted to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU).

From there, he went through a series of tests — including having an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillater (ICD) placed in his chest — and was released the following Wednesday.

Santheson said he was diagnosed roughly 10 years prior with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart wall.

While at the time his symptoms were mild, cardiac arrest is consistent with the disease, which he said was genetic in his family.

He also remembered the names of the two out-of-state classmates — Virginia Apostolacus of Pennsylvania and Scott Stevens of Connecticut — that performed “flawless CPR for at least six to eight [minutes],” despite neither being CPR certified.

Santheson said the three remain in communication sporadically to this day through text and social media.

“The doctors told me that their efforts quite literally made the difference in saving my life,” said Santheson. “How can you repay a debt like that? CPR training classes around the country preach that early intervention is key to survival. I will never be able to thank them enough.”

While he has been a softball coach on various levels locally for nearly two decades, Santheson’s athletic roots spread all over town.

He has been heavily engaged in the Panther softball program since 2007, when his daughter, Kayla, played for the Panthers and was a stalwart pitcher and infielder, who helped Medomak Valley win back-to-back regional championships.

Santheson joined the team in an official capacity as assistant coach in 2015.

He has also coached Little League and ASA softball and has been a softball umpire for the Knox-Lincoln-Waldo (KLW) Umpire Association, as well as serving as the town’s recreation director for 12 years.

Prior to his days as a coach, Santheson, a 1980 graduate of Plymouth Carver High School in Plymouth, Mass, was a wrestler for the Eagles and went on to join the United States Coast Guard shortly after graduation.

He was stationed in various posts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and Maine for 24 years before retiring as commanding officer of the Rockland station in 2004.

Santheson also has been Waldoboro’s Emergency Management Director for 15 years, in addition to his stint as the town’s recreation director.

Of late, before schools closed due health concerns over the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Santheson has volunteered in the advanced photography class at Medomak Valley High School and was heavily involved in the #WhyYouMatter project, spearheaded by teacher Brooke Holland.

To put it simply, Santheson wears a lot of hats. And, if and when the high school softball season resumes, he plans to put his coaching hat back on and make a full return to the dugout.

“Despite all that I have been through, I've felt great, and have had no issues since the event,” he said. “And besides, if I can survive both of those Oceanside games at the end of last season, I plan on sticking around as long as I can.”

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