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My Story of Survival

4-6 Minutes: The Story of How CPR/AED Training for School Personnel Saved My Life

My Story

On February 1st, 2018, I began my day the same way that most administrators do: with a meeting. In fact, my morning was full of meetings, most of which I made it to, the last of which, I did not.

When I stepped foot into the District Office of Pecatonica School District, a wave of dizziness hit me like a ton of bricks. I tried to speak, but within mere seconds, I passed out. Not only did I pass out, but my heart experienced ventricular fibrillation, the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance, and I suffered from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

When I fell from standing position and hit the ground, Superintendent Bill Faller immediately began administering hands-only CPR, which requires a person to push hard in the center of the chest, at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. High School Principal Todd France aided in the CPR, keeping my airway open by tilting my head back.

School Psychologist Sarah Kuperus ran to retrieve the school’s AED, and made it across the school and back in under 40 seconds, knowing exactly where to find it. Other colleagues called 911 and my emergency contacts, which they kept on file in the District Office for quick access.

Within minutes of the start of CPR, Middle School Principal Tim King arrived and took control of the scene, along with Pecatonica EMS and police. Mr. King continued CPR, and ultimately saved my life by using the AED to administer three shocks to my heart. When you place an AED on a person’s chest, the device speaks out loud to you and advises whether or not a shock is needed. The device suggested that I be shocked three times, after which my heart continued in an irregular, but more stable pattern, and I was able to be transferred to Rockford Memorial Hospital’s ICU.

I began my time in the ICU intubated, in a neck brace, and in a medically induced coma. By the end of my first night in the ICU, doctors were unsure if I would ever walk, talk, or breathe on my own ever again, as I was not waking up or responding to questions.

However, I miraculously woke up the next morning, and was able to be transported to UW-Madison’s University Hospital, where I had surgery to receive a subcutaneous defibrillator, something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. One week after surgery, and two weeks after my near-death experience, I returned to work, slightly concussed, as the Curriculum Director of Pecatonica School District.

The story of my miraculous survival is not a common one. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 350,000 people experience Sudden Cardiac Arrest each year (7,000 of which are children/teens), of which only about 10% survive. According to my doctors, only a small percentage of the survivors are able to walk, talk, and function normally on their own.

How did I end up in the 1-2% of people who survive Sudden Cardiac Arrest and go on to lead normal lives? I am alive only because of the fast intervention of my colleagues and the training that they had received annually.

When a person is experiencing Sudden Cardiac Arrest, time is of the essence. Within 4-6 minutes, loss of blood to the brain causes brain damage, and by 10 minutes, a person is typically deceased.

To save a person’s life, you must begin CPR within 4-6 minutes, and if possible, use the AED to administer a lifesaving shock. Due to the training that my colleagues received, they did not hesitate to act, and were able to save my life within the short 4-6 minute window.

At Pecatonica School District, CPR/AED training is offered every year, and my colleagues had just received training on January 4th, 2018. At the training, the American Heart Association instructed my colleagues to locate where the AED is in each of our schools, how to properly administer CPR, and how to use the AED. Training was offered to all school personnel, and CPR certification cards were paid for by the district at a cost of approx. $6 per card.

While it is required for high school students to be trained in CPR/AED, there is not a requirement for teachers or staff to receive training. Despite the lack of a requirement, I am urging you to arrange for training to be made available at your school each and every year, to each and every school employee.

While training is offered through the American Heart Association and Red Cross, many local fire departments and hospitals offer their services to train school employees. If your district cannot afford to pay for the CPR certification cards, trainees can opt to pay the fee themselves.

For students, please remember that IL state law requires high school students to receive training in CPR/AED at least once before they graduate. The American Heart Association now offers a CPR training kit, which can train thousands of students, and can be reused annually.

If you do not have CPR training manikins, try contacting your local hospital, fire department, or ROE to see if they have any that you can borrow to train your students.

With all of the requirements placed upon us to measure student growth and ensure that our schools are conducive to high levels of learning, it is easy to forget about the most basic trainings that can make our school a safer place for everyone.

CPR/AED training is a quick, easy way to ensure that you, your staff, and your students can save a life wherever and whenever they may be required to.

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