WASECA, Minn. — Waseca High School football coach Brad Wendland had always known the story of Aidan Miller.
The 16-year-old football player at Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School, located about 80 miles east of Waseca, died on July 22, 2019 from a cardiac arrhythmia during a fishing outing with friends. Although the incident did not occur during a school athletic activity, Miller's death rocked the close-knit world of Minnesota high school football, particularly since he had no family history of heart issues.
"I was just shocked by it when it happened in 2019," Wendland said.
Wendland never could have predicted that he would find himself in a similar situation two years later. With 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter of the 2021 season opener against St. Peter last September, Wendland started to feel lightheaded on the sidelines, before he took a knee and collapsed to the ground.
Sudden cardiac arrest.
"Just about word-for-word, what happened to Aidan, happened to me," Wendland said. "Same thing: Took a knee and collapsed. It literally was the same event. The difference was, I went down 10 feet from an AED."
Several people rushed to help Wendland after he collapsed on that hot September evening, including a nurse in the crowd and medical staff from both schools. The trainer from St. Peter, in fact, applied the AED — short for automated external defibrillator — to revive Wendland and save his life.
In Aidan Miller's case a few years earlier, his friends had done everything right by immediately calling 911 and following CPR directions over the phone. Police responded as fast as they could, but due to the rural location, about 20 minutes passed before an officer could attempt to use an AED on Aidan. By then, it was too late to give the electric shock.
"We didn't know that a perfectly healthy kid could just drop over from a heart issue," Aidan's mom, Karen, said. "Since his death, we've learned a lot about sudden cardiac death in the young. Athletes are at a greater risk of sudden cardiac arrest."
That's why Karen and her husband, Dan Miller, drove more than an hour to Waseca last Wednesday morning, to meet with Brad Wendland and donate an AED to Waseca High School.
The Millers saw news coverage of Wendland's incident last fall and felt compelled to make contact with the Bluejays head coach.
"We have realized the importance of AEDs," Karen Miller said, "and Coach Brad Wendland's story just reaffirmed how important they are. Luckily, he was in the right place at the right time, around people who knew what to do, and he's here today to tell his story."
Although Waseca High does already have an AED, the Millers' donation will give the school multiple portable devices for expanded coverage, providing a boost to outdoor sports in particular.
Aided by community fundraising, the Millers established a scholarship in Aidan's memory and have donated AEDs to other Minnesota schools like Lake City, Wabasha-Kellogg, Caledonia, and Byron.
"It's so important to act within minutes," Karen said.
Although they cannot turn back the clock to save their son, the Millers hope Coach Wendland will carry Aidan's legacy forward at Waseca High School, with an extra AED making all Bluejays athletes safer.
"They're incredible. They're inspiring. This was their idea," Wendland said of the Miller family. "It's going to make us twice as likely to save someone's life."