Quick action by athletic trainer saved Army hockey player’s life after skate cut his neck

Rachel Leahy was not about to let up on the pressure she was applying to Eric Huss’ face.

So when Huss was about to be loaded into the ambulance Jan. 5 after suffering a severe cut to his face during an ice hockey game between Sacred Heart and Army, Leahy realized there was no room for her to stay by his side and keep pressure on the cut.

“I was like, ‘I need to get on top of him,’” Leahy, the Army ice hockey trainer, said on a conference call Tuesday. “So somebody hoisted me up so I could continue to apply pressure and still fit in the ambulance.

“It was a couple minutes to the hospital. We rolled into the emergency department with me sitting on top of him.”

Only then, when the emergency room personnel at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport took over, did Leahy let up.

“She single-handedly got him to the hospital in as good a shape as he was,” said Dr. Matthew Carlson, a trauma surgeon at St. Vincent’s who operated on Huss. “She saved his life, in no uncertain terms.”

Huss, a junior forward on the Army hockey team from Dallas, was playing in a game against Sacred Heart at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport that day. In the second period, his teammate Noah Wilson hit an opposing player and when his foot went up in the air, his skate cut Huss’ face and neck.

“When he hit him, his foot came up and it felt like I had been hit in the face with a punch,” Huss said. “I didn’t register I got cut. I felt a little concussed, in shock. I immediately went to the bench because my helmet fell off. I’m going to the bench holding my face and I’m looking down and I see all this blood, trailing.”

Huss thought maybe he had lost teeth; he put his hand to his mouth, but that wasn’t where the blood was coming from.

Leahy, a 2016 Quinnipiac graduate from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. who is in her second year as Army’s hockey trainer, had already hopped over the boards and had a towel ready to put on the cut.

“Rachel was with me the whole time,” Huss said. “She didn’t take her hands off my face. She was asking me how I was doing, I said, “It’s uncomfortable but I feel fine.’”

Carlson said Huss’ facial artery had been severed but not his carotid artery.

“His jawbone saved his life - it bore the brunt of the impact from the skate,” Carlson said. “If not for that, his carotid artery would have been severed. It was lucky the angle he was struck, and it was lucky his bone was there to take the impact. This was something that could have turned out differently.”

The St. Vincent’s emergency room personnel immediately brought Huss into surgery, where Carlson said he received two blood transfusions.

“There were two ends bleeding rapidly, there was some injury to the muscle of the neck, but the primary life-threatening injury he had was to his facial artery,” Carlson said. “We were able to clamp and ligate both ends. Then we closed the big cut he had on his face and neck.

“He probably doesn’t remember this, but he woke up in the operating room asking where Rachel was.”

Huss left St. Vincent’s within 24 hours of arriving there. He hasn’t been back on the ice yet but expects to return to skating in a week or so and possibly return to playing in 2-3 weeks.

He said he would be wearing a neck guard when playing from now on, although he added that the neck guard wouldn’t have likely prevented this particular injury because it was too high up on his face.

Leahy didn’t see Huss much before the injury; he was pretty healthy. Now she sees him every day.

“Rachel is an amazing resource we have here,” Huss said. “I was fortunate enough before this to never need the resource but now we’re great friends and bonded for life.”

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.