Local deputy/coach recalls tragedy that led him to get CPR training that saved a life

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — One thing we’ve heard time and time again since Monday night is that the CPR Bills Safety Damar Hamlin received on the field in the moments after his collapse, is the reason he is still alive. 

In 2001, a local athlete tragically didn’t survive a similar on-field cardiac arrest but the situation changed his coach’s life forever, pushing him into a new career that ensures he’s trained and re-trained on CPR often. 

Craig Whipple was an All-American lacrosse player himself but it’s a game that took place during his first year as Coach of the RIT Tigers, that will stay with him forever, “we were playing Springfield College, and Todd got hit in the chest with a ball during our warm-up period,” he recalls. 

Freshman Todd Bernhardt went down right away, “I was 23. I had played with a lot of kids on that team and in that capacity (as coach) we let our trainer do what she could do,” Whipple says, “at that point in time I kind of just took command of our team and decided to go in the locker room and not have to see that sort of trauma on the field.”

Whipple still remembers the emotions of his players and on Monday night when he saw Damar Hamlin’s injury, it all came rushing back, “I think what you saw from Buffalo is the same that you saw with our team confusion, not knowing how to process something like that, having a brother be with you one minute and then having them in the hospital the next minute, not knowing the situation and what’s going on and you could see that on everybody’s faces,” he says.

Todd Bernhardt died of that cardiac arrest, “I actually stopped coaching at that point in time for a period of time and decided to change my life and go into a different avenue,” Whipple says.

He became a Monroe County Jail Deputy, a job where first responder training is mandatory, he never wanted to find himself in a position where he couldn’t help.  Whipple got married, had children and eventually got back into coaching.  He’s currently a coach at St. John Fisher University and for his daughter’s club lacrosse team.

It was at one of those club lacrosse games where Whipple was called upon to help, “a grandfather of a girl on the team went into cardiac arrest, we were flagged down and we were able to respond to him very quickly, get over there and start CPR on him right away,” he recalls.  Whipple continued chest compressions until an ambulance arrived with an AED and the grandfather ultimately survived, “I’m just happy for her when I see her doing things around town knowing that her grandfather is still there watching her,” he tells News10NBC.

It’s not always easy to be called upon to help, “to tell you the truth, when the adrenaline was gone and the incident was over, processing that  trauma later, it was really something that was emotional for me after that,” Whipple recalls.  But he says, he’s thankful he was prepared, “we were blessed to be there that day and to learn from our past experiences and be able to do that.”

Whipple walked News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke through the proper use of an AED machine and the basics of CPR. That video is below:

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