Eli Tolentino doesn’t remember anything past waking up in the morning on Sept. 18.
It was a cool, sunny morning in Castroville, Calif. As usual, North Monterey County High School had its gym open for pick-up basketball games. This Tuesday was no different than any other as alumni, students and community members alike played carefree games on the hardwood.
And Tolentino, a 2018 graduate of North Monterey County, was playing in one of the games as he had on a near-daily basis since graduation.
But thanks to quick action by key members on the court after he went into cardiac arrest, waking up that morning isn’t his last memory.
Nothing was out of the ordinary that Tuesday morning. Players filed into the gym for pickup games and dribbled around the court in friendly matchups.
“It was just a normal day from what I’ve been told,” Tolentino said.
During these games, players form their own squads and play 5-on-5 in either a half- or full-court games, depending on how many players. They’ll agree on the winning point total and the value of each shot before tipping off.
From what he’s heard since that day, Tolentino was performing the same as always. Basketball had been a part of his life for years and he was a regular at open gyms when not in class at Monterey Peninsula College.
That Tuesday, he cut to the basket, fired jumpers from outside the paint and kept pace on defense.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing unusual.”
A game finished, and Tolentino started to feel a little off. He told some of the other participants he needed to sit down for a minute and strode over to one of the black and grey benches.
He never made it there. Tolentino collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.
Later he’d learn that in that instant his heart had suffered a coronary artery spasm. A coronary artery spasm causes the arteries around the heart to tighten, which can prevent blood from going to the heart.
Brain damage from cardiac arrest can begin in a matter of minutes. Death or permanent brain damage takes four to six minutes.
This was now a life-or-death situation.
Luckily for Tolentino, two of the players on the court included assistant boys’ basketball coach Austin Self and PE teacher Jesus Galindo.
Self’s known Tolentino for years after coaching his brother on multiple teams and him as well when he played for the Condors.
“I’ve known his brother since I was in middle school,” Self said. “And then I coached him when he was a junior and senior in high school. I’ve got a good relationship with that kid.”
He’d also worked as an EMT after graduating from North Monterey County in 2010. In a situation like this, he had to intervene.
“There’s only one thing to do in that situation, which is to act,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is nothing.”