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Physician’s Life Saved During Basketball Game

Children’s Hospital physician James Naprawa, MD, collapsed during a casual basketball game — but Kaiser Permanente players used their quick wits and a portable defibrillator to save his life. Pictured on the court, left to right, Kenneth Chen, MD; David Williams; Jorge Palza; James Naprawa, MD; Yu-Te Lee, MD; and Brian Chan, MD.

One minute, James Naprawa, MD, was shooting some hoops with fellow physicians from neighboring hospitals. The next, he was waking after an automated external defibrillator (AED) shocked him back to consciousness.

In between, it was the quick action of a Kaiser Permanente medical assistant and physicians that saved Dr. Naprawa’s life on July 16.

Months later, Dr. Naprawa is well enough to be biking to work and treating patients at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. On December 10, he even resumed playing basketball.

“With medication, I’m close to being back to normal,” said the busy pediatric emergency medicine physician.

From Hiking to a Health Crisis

On December 10, James Naprawa, MD, played his first pick-up basketball game since his medical emergency.

The basketball games have been organized by Jorge Palza, a medical assistant in the Medical Specialty Clinic at Kaiser Permanente Richmond, for about 5 years on Monday and Tuesday evenings at an Oakland gym.

Dr. Naprawa had played with the group a few times after being invited by Brian Chan, MD, an Internal Medicine physician at the Richmond Medical Center and long-time friend. “We used to play basketball all of the time in medical school,” said Dr. Naprawa.

Over the years Dr. Naprawa, 50, exercised and kept his weight down, but admitted his diet could have been better.

In early July he had hiked 10 miles alone up a 12,000 peak in Colorado and felt fine. But several days before the basketball game, Dr. Naprawa felt an unusual shortness of breath while riding his bike.

“I told myself that if I feel like this again, I will stop and go see a physician,” he said. “I was very nervous before I played that night, and 5 minutes into the game I didn’t feel right.”

Dr. Naprawa collapsed among the other players, including Yu-Te Lee, MD, a hospital medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Oakland, who attended to him; Kenneth Chen, MD, a Richmond Medical Center nephrologist, who called 9-1-1; David Williams, the recreation center manager, who waited outside for the emergency team; and Palza, who quickly unpacked the AED he carries to each game, which was used several times to bring back Dr. Naprawa’s pulse.

On the Road Back, There’s Gratitude

At Kaiser Permanente Oakland, the Cath Lab team led by Ahmed Ijaz Shah, MD, jumped into action, inserting a stent and getting Dr. Naprawa stabilized in recovery. An EKG showed Dr. Naprawa had had a heart attack and had a complete blockage of his major heart artery.

Later, Dr. Naprawa was diagnosed with cholesterol dyslipidemia, an abnormal level of cholesterol and other lipids in the blood that doesn’t show up in a normal cholesterol panel.

Once released, he spent 6 weeks recovering poolside at his in-laws’ house in Sacramento. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. I was just happy to be alive. It was the most stress-free summer I had had since I was 10.”

He now marvels that his heart attack didn’t happen while he was alone on a mountain peak, but instead among fellow medical professionals who had the foresight to get an AED. “I really credit Jorge, Yu-Te, Ken, David, and the EMS team. They’re all heroes.”

“James would have died without the AED,” said Dr. Chen. “I think AEDs should be available in all gyms.”

Palza secured funding for the AED from Dave Leighton, Kaiser Permanente Richmond COO, as a safety precaution for the games “among a bunch of middle-aged guys,” said Dr. Naprawa, who is effusive in his praise of Kaiser Permanente Oakland.

“Everyone who took care of me was incredible — the cardiologists, every doctor, every nurse, the people who served my meals — they were just wonderful. I really can’t speak highly enough of the care I got.”



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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. I love this article. I feel so happy that my dad was able to live because of you guys. Thanks for saving my dad.

  2. Great work by the attending basketball playing physicians.
    I’m approaching 50 and wondering how I can get checked to know if I’m in danger of this happening to me? If the cholesterol panel from my KP blood test doesn’t show it, is there any other indicator?
    Very glad Dr. Naprawa’s life was saved.

    1. Hi, Kent. You can make an appointment with your primary care physician, express your concerns, and work with your doctor on further testing.

  3. Wow Jorge! Way to go and also everyone else who played a part in saving Dr. Naprawa’s life. Talk about team work….

  4. Thank you for sharing this story,
    Glad everyone reacted quickly in an emergency situation, receiving great care by our very own KP hospital & providers.
    Spending time with family and friends while enjoying life is important.
    Happy Holidays.

  5. George!! You’re the best working in Cardiology and your skills came into play to save a life. I’m glad to hear Dr. Naprawa is back to normal. Great job, Kaiser Richmond Team.

  6. I wish that personnel at community centers would have access to life saving equipment and be trained to use same. The general population can’t rely on a CEO to provide this. This would be a great way for Kaiser to give back to the community. What do you think?

    1. Hello Catherine,
      I know in a lot of the jr. high school gyms and h.s. gyms now have AED and training to use them in situations. I’m not sure what type of facility the KP providers were in. but great idea.

    2. I agree It would be great if more of these were available in our communities. They are actually pretty affordable considering the benefits in return. I have been wanting to get one for our home for a while, so after reading this article finally ordered mine using my FSA. Yep! I was able to purchase one at the

      I am curious to know the model of the AED that was used.

  7. Awesome story!! Glad to hear Dr. Naprawa is back in action and back to helping the community. What a blessing for all those impacted by this occurrence … many congratulations for a great team effort in saving a life!

  8. Thank you for sharing this story and I’m so glad to hear that one of our many everyday heroes was kept safe and well. Happy Holidays!

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