Minnesota player fighting for life after collapsing on court

A high school boys basketball player in Minnesota continues to fight for his life after collapsing on the court with what is believed to be a previously unknown heart defect.

According to the Associated Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 17-year-old Zach Gabbard, the player to the right in the photo at right, collapsed on Thursday night while competing for his Perham (Minn.) High basketball team in a game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (Minn.) High. According to KARE TV in Minneapolis, an emergency room nurse who happened to be in the crowd supporting D-G-F rushed onto the court to check for a pulse, then began chest compressions on the teen when one couldn't be found. A doctor at the game helped hold the player's mouth open while an electronic defibrillator was used until emergency technicians arrived and transported Gabbard to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, N.D., the nearest city to the Western Minnesota game.

"Game was going up and down ... and he fell down in front of (the Perham) bench," D-G-F Activities Director Craig Anderson told KARE. "Their bench went out to help him, and we had an emergency room nurse in the stands who is a D-G-F'er."

The quick thinking from the nurse, a 40-year-old Glyndon resident named Debbie Cuchna, and the still unidentified doctor at the game helped bridge a 10-minute gap between when Gabbard collapsed and when the ambulance arrived, a period in which emotions were understandably running high. Gabbard's father rushed down from the stands, struggling to comprehend his son lying on the court, as Cuchna told the Star-Tribune.

"It was incredibly quiet," Cuchna said. The boy's father, Steve Gabbard, came to his son's side, she said, and she asked him if there was anything he needed.

"He said, 'The only thing I need is Zach,'" said Cuchna, who had not met the family before Thursday. "My family and the whole community are definitely praying for him."

Gabbard underwent emergency heart surgery in Fargo, and has was airlifted to Minneapolis on Sunday, where he is recovering at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. His personal web page on CaringBridge.org, a site dedicated to updating loved ones on a patient's care and helping fundraise for their medical expenses, claims that Gabbard began showing some signs of improvement overnight Saturday and Sunday, but that he is still in critical condition.

"Last night was a very good night overall, and Zach is starting to show signs of response," the player's parents wrote at CaringBridge.org/ZachGabbard. "So continue to keep your prayers and thoughts coming this way as it seems to be working."

If they are working, Gabbard got more help in that area on Sunday, with a special prayer service held on his behalf at Calvary Lutheran Church in his hometown of Perham.

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