Athletic trainer saves high school baseball catcher's life

By Katherine Tellez

April 8, 2014 Updated Apr 9, 2014 at 10:04 AM CDT

TREMONT, Ill. -- A Manual High School baseball player is thankful to be alive after a baseball game last Tuesday took a turn for the worst.

Austin Noel was the catcher in a game against Tremont.

During the fourth inning, a foul ball caught Noel under his face mask, hit him in the throat and knocked him unconscious. That blocked his airway.

Luckily, an athletic trainer was in the dugout and helped save Noel's life.

The details of what happened April 1 may be fuzzy for Noel, but what he does know is that Greg Eberle took the lead in saving his life.

"Never in my career have I had to deal with a situation like that," said Eberle, Assistant Director of Sports Medicine at Hopedale Medical Complex.

Last Tuesday, a foul ball turned your typical high school game into a race to save one player's life.

"Greg opened my airway and gave me the breath, basically the life I needed to live," said Noel.

Noel's airway was blocked after a foul ball hit him in the throat.

"When we got him down he was gurgling which is not really breathing," Eberle said. "He did go unconscious and he was non-responsive at the time."

Eberle tried to clear the airway and started mouth-to-mouth while the school nurse monitored his heart until emergency crews arrived.

As a trainer, Eberle oversees an outreach program for five area high schools.

Last Tuesday was his day to check on the teams in Tremont.

He doesn't usually go to the games and still doesn't know what made him stay that day.

"People keep asking me the question 'why, why were you here?' I have no doubt in my mind it was divine intervention and that the good Lord put me here for a reason and put all the people that helped Austin out here for a reason," Eberle said. "It was a team effort and everybody was in the right place at the right time, doing the right things, making the right decisions."

And in the end, what could have been a tragic event has turned into a friendship.

"I can't thank him enough," Noel said. "He was really a lifesaver. And looking into the future, I hope it's a friendship I can keep forever. I'll never forget April 1."

Noel was life-flighted to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center where he spent a day and a half.

He was back doing what he loves this past weekend but he let someone else take the catcher's position.