An 18-Year-Old Athlete Almost Dropped Dead, but Friends Saved His Life: 'It's Really a Miracle'

"If I were anywhere else I probably wouldn't be here right now," J.J. Machnik says

<p>Laura Machnik</p> From left: Trevor Hodgins, JJ Machnik, and Giovanni Scafidi

Laura Machnik

From left: Trevor Hodgins, JJ Machnik, and Giovanni Scafidi
  • J.J. Machnik almost died after his heart stopped for at least a minute during a routine workout in May

  • But the quick-thinking actions of his friends and teammates saved his life, his doctor says

  • Now, they're sharing the story of Machnik's rare genetic condition and the CPR training that averted tragedy

In May, high school wrestler J.J. Machnik jumped on the treadmill at a teammate's house for a routine workout — and five minutes later, the 18-year-old went into cardiac arrest.

His teammate’s mother called 911, and J.J.'s teammate and the teammate's younger brother performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

Without that, J.J. would not have survived, his doctor says.

“His friends saved his life,” Dr. Matthew W. Martinez tells PEOPLE.

“J.J. was by all intents and purposes dead. His heart had stopped at least a minute or two," says Martinez, the director of sports cardiology and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at Morristown Medical Center.

The New Jersey teen, for his part, says it all "happened so fast. It doesn’t feel real.”

In 2017, J.J.’s father, Jeff Machnik, was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) with obstruction, a disease where the heart muscle becomes thickened, which can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.

“We had the kids tested, everything was fine,” says J.J.’s mother, 46-year-old Laura Machnik, who does payroll for a construction company. But two years later, when J.J., then 14, had an abnormal EKG, he was diagnosed with HCM too.

The genetic heart condition affects about 1 in 500 people, according to the American Heart Association, but many people don't know they have it since they don't show symptoms.

J.J. had no symptoms and was considered to be low risk. He was able to wrestle all four years in high school, serving as team captain both his junior and senior year. “Our friends knew, anybody that was around J.J. knew,” his mother says. “Just in case.”

Two weeks before his 19th birthday, on Friday, May 10, J.J. and teammate 19-year-old Giovanni Scafidi were getting in a workout to prepare for a post-season wrestling tournament in Atlantic City that evening. J.J. usually carried a defibrillator with him, but he forgot to bring it with him this time.

They were working out at the home of Marlana Hodgin, whose older son wrestles with J.J. He was at school that morning, but she says she has a “wrestling barn” with weights and mats and treadmills so teammates regularly drop by.

At 7:30 a.m., Hodgins was upstairs at her home in Howell, New Jersey, getting ready to join the boys in the gym when she heard J.J. fall.

“It was a very heavy fall,” Hodgins, 44, recalls. “I could tell he didn’t just trip on the treadmill.”

She heard Giovanni scream J.J.’s name — and since she knew J.J. had a heart condition, she called 911 as she ran down the stairs.

“I get to the workout room and J.J.’s slumped over. I can still hear him trying to gasp for air at that point,” she says.

<p>Laura Machnik</p> From left: Laura Machnik, JJ Machnik, Charli Machnik and Jeff Machnik

Laura Machnik

From left: Laura Machnik, JJ Machnik, Charli Machnik and Jeff Machnik

As she spoke to the dispatcher, her 14-year-old son, Trevor, came down and worked with Giovanni to roll J.J. over and get him off the treadmill. “We tried to get him out of the corner that he fell into,” Trevor tells PEOPLE. “My mom kept yelling at me, ‘Is he breathing? Is he breathing?’ I didn’t think he was anymore. Me and Gio stopped to listen, and he was not breathing, so I just started CPR.”

Trevor did chest compressions, telling Giovanni when to give the two breaths. They completed three rounds of CPR when the police arrived with a defibrillator and took over.

“It was crazy,” Trevor says. “It was a lot.”

Trevor’s father, Steven Hodgins, is a New Jersey state trooper and CPR instructor. Two years ago, he taught all three of his children how to do it.

“They’re called accidents for a reason. Nobody ever knows when something’s going to happen,” Trevor says.

After his cardiac arrest, J.J. got a pacemaker that is also a defibrillator, to spare future close calls. Though he celebrated his last birthday in the hospital, in mid May, he's recovering well while he continues physical therapy and navigates some physical limitations.

“He’s doing terrific,” the doctor says.

J.J. graduated high school on Thursday, June 20. He had planned to wrestle at Delaware Valley University this fall — but he put that on hold, his mom says, and will attend community college as he continues to recover.

“He’s just trying to get back to normal. He still can’t lift his arm over his head,” his mom says. “He’s got a ways to go.” A GoFundMe has been established to help the family.

J.J.’s doctor emphasizes that it’s “chance” as to when and where the heart event would have happened. J.J. says he’s grateful that he was with friends who knew what to do.

“If I were anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he tells PEOPLE. “It’s really a miracle. I don’t know how else to put it into words.”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.