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Life-Saving Moment Is Life Changing Too

The Mendiolas, former El Toro standouts, have different perspective after helping revive Washington teammate.

January 08, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

Former El Toro High basketball standouts Giuliana and Gioconda Mendiola, now playing for the University of Washington, are among five players credited with saving the life of teammate Kayla Burt.

The Mendiolas and their teammates were at Burt's off-campus residence on New Year's Eve, when the sophomore forward complained of feeling lightheaded. She then collapsed onto her bed, unconscious.

Teammate Loree Payne, who was watching television with Burt, alerted the other players, who ran upstairs to help. Giuliana Mendiola pumped Burt's chest, and Gioconda gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until paramedics arrived. .

"She was breathing like she was having a seizure," Gioconda Mendiola said of Burt.

Teammate Eric Schelley talked to an emergency operator, who relayed instructions on how to properly administer CPR.

"We were kind of winging it at first," Giuliana Mendiola said. "But when we first turned her over she was purple, and it was obvious she needed oxygen. We just did what we thought was best. But then the emergency operator told us how many times to pump her chest and help her breathe."

Burt, 20, who had started in Washington's first 10 games, was eventually diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, an electrical abnormality that causes irregularities in heartbeat rhythm. It is both rare and inherited.

She underwent surgery Monday at the University of Washington Medical Center. A defibrillator was inserted into her chest to monitor Burt's heartbeat and apply shocks to correct irregularities.

Burt was released from the hospital on Tuesday. Doctors have told her she can live a normal, healthy life, but she can no longer play college basketball.

Coach June Daugherty said she'd left it up to the team whether to travel to Los Angeles for last weekend's games against UCLA and USC.

Once they knew that Burt's condition was stabilized, the team decided to play the games. The Huskies lost to UCLA on Friday, but defeated USC on Sunday. Giuliana Mendiola made the winning basket against the Trojans with 2.5 seconds left in overtime.

"At the time we were in Los Angeles, we did not have all the answers," said Daugherty, who was asked by Burt's family not to comment on her condition. "It was very difficult, a very tough three days on her and family. It was touch and go for 72 hours. But she came out of her coma.

"All of our priorities changed ... and basketball was way down the list. The games were hard to ask kids to go and play. I've never been more proud of a team."

Daugherty said UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier and USC Coach Chris Gobrecht had been willing to do anything to accommodate the Huskies.

The Mendiolas said the experience had changed their lives.

"It's made me appreciate things more," Gioconda Mendiola said. "Kayla is like a sister to me. I don't know if I've told my teammates how much I love them."

Added Giuliana., "Basketball wasn't the only thing in my life, but winning was very important to me. But now I am more grateful for the people around me, and that we are there for each other."

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