Federal Way mom searches for answers after son dies following high school football practice

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- One mom is looking for answers after her son died following a Federal Way football practice.

On Tuesday July 24, 16-year-old Allen Harris died after football practice.

The King County medical examiner says the cause of Allen’s death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -- a heart condition that, in some rare cases, can cause sudden cardiac arrest.

“Just a great guy, a perfect gentleman,” Dee Harris said of her son Allen.

Dee Harris drove Allen to football practice that day. She says when she dropped him off, she had no idea that it would be the last time she saw him alive.

“It really was like a movie to me, one that I probably would have cut off by now because it’s too sad to watch,” she said.

For the last two weeks, Harris has mourned the loss of her son, something she says is already difficult enough, but she also is looking for answers about her son’s death.

“I have questions about the CPR protocol,” she said.

At the time of the incident,  Q13 News asked Federal Way School officials about their response.

Q13 News: We wanted to ask if there was an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) around at the time of the incident and was it used on the student?

Federal Way Public Schools: There is an AED in the Federal Way Memorial Field office, located near the end of the field where the incident occurred (approx. 100’ away). The AED was not used since the student was responsive while medics were in route.

“Kids saw him hit the ground, convulsing and foaming at the mouth -- is that responsive?" asked Harris.

Q13 News obtained the 911 tapes from the incident.

During the call, the coach tells the 911 operator it appears Harris is having a seizure.

At one point,  the coach says Harris is on his side and breathing, and no longer appeared to be having a seizure.

The 911 operator tells the coach to wait for emergency services to arrive and to call back if Harris’ conditions change or he begins to go into seizure again.

“Most of the times patients are unresponsive, sometimes they go through phases where there is abnormal breathing or seizure-like activity and I think that can be mistaken or misinterpreted as responsive,” said Dr. David Owens, an associate professor at University of Washington and UW Medicine, and the director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathic Clinic at UW Medicine.

He cannot speak to the specifics of Harris' case, but spoke to Q13 News in general terms regarding hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

He says when someone is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the best chance of them surviving is for others to act fast.

“After four to six minutes, if they don’t have circulatory support, they are going to have neurological impairment,” said Owens.

Records from the 911 response show it took first responders about seven minutes to get to the field from the time of the call.

Owens says it’s always better to err on the side of caution.  Owens says if someone doesn’t need CPR, they will tell you.

Federal way school officials declined to speak on camera about this incident. Instead they provided this statement:

“Thank you for the opportunity for an on camera interview, however, we are offering the following information in regards to your inquiry.

"In the wake of the tragic loss of a Federal Way High School student-athlete, Federal Way Public Schools suspended activities for a 72-hour period to engage into an internal and external review of policies and procedures.

"There were three (3) coaches supervising the workout and all are current on required medical response certifications required by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which includes First Aid/CPR/AED certifications.

"Based on the information we have at this stage of the review, it is our understanding all policies and procedures were followed by the staff and the district.”