Left to right: David Dibble and Zach Sievers
By Gina Mayfield
In Spring 2017, youth baseball coach Zach Sievers got a call from former player David Dibble looking to land a spot on a local team. After having a hard time finding a place for the 19-year-old college freshman, Zach did the next best thing and offered him an assistant coaching position on his own 16 and under Wisconsin Wave team in Kenosha.
June rolled around, and David was in the bullpen going through the usual drills with the team.
“Then it happened,” Zach remembers. “David threw a pitch, the catcher threw it back to him. David looked at me, grabbed his chest and fell to his knees.”
Then came the face plant, which was so slow and controlled that Zach wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I thought he might be playing a prank on somebody.” But David didn’t budge, even after Zach called out to him.
Zach ran over and realized this was no joke.
“David’s eyes were glazed over, his face was gray, his lips were purple,” Zach recalls. He directed another coach to call 911 and sprung into action.
“I checked David’s airways and didn’t feel any breath. I couldn’t see his chest rising. I checked for a pulse and couldn’t find one, so I started CPR.”
No one else at the ballpark that day knew CPR. Thankfully, Zach had been an electronics technician in the Navy, where he went through regular CPR and AED training.
While to Zach it felt like 15 seconds had passed between the time he started CPR and the time a fire truck arrived, it had actually been nine to 12 minutes.
“Where we were wasn’t the easiest place to get to, and we were between fire zones,” he says. One fireman took over CPR, while the other ran to get the portable AED.
“When I heard the AED announce it couldn’t detect a pulse, I knew for a fact at that point that David was in some trouble. At that point it became real.”
When Zach got to the hospital, paramedics told him they had to stop the ambulance twice to restart David’s heart. He still wasn’t stable.
“I was really just hoping he was going to make it,” Zach says.
Eventually the doctor came out and pulled him aside.
“He told me that if I hadn’t done what I did, David would have died. He wasn’t out of the woods yet, but his chances of living were much better. That was hard to hear. It could have gone either way.”
Flight for Life flew David to a major hospital in Milwaukee where it was discovered that he had atrial fibrillation (AFib).
“So, essentially his heart was just beating out of control, so much so that he didn’t have a pulse,” Zach says. “It was beating at such an interval that it was more like a flutter than a beat.”
David had a defibrillator inserted and spent a week in the hospital. While he was still there his Aunt Connie had an epiphany. She realized that what happened to David could happen to anyone. She went on to start the Dibbs17 CPR Challenge (a name created by combining David’s nickname and number) with the goal of training 1,700 people on CPR within one year.
Connie partnered with the American Heart Association and used its tools to train every last one of them, and that was just the beginning of the organization. They’ve also hosted AED Challenges, where participants take pictures of the AED in whatever building they’re in, just to see if they can find it.
“Connie has done more for David than I ever did,” Zach says humbly.
These days, Dibbs17 is still going strong, and so is David. He got cleared to play baseball again and is back on the field at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. But the Dibble family never forgot what Zach did for them.
“They call me their angel,” he says. “But it’s hard for me to hear ‘thank you’ because I just did what I was supposed to do.”
To hear more about Dibbs17 and David’s story, watch this video on YouTube.