Wednesday, June 16, 2004

'They brought me back from the dead!' Defibrillator law makes a difference

Kenmore school nurse Mary Rose Laux, left, and Kenmore police officer
David Stapleton used a defibrillator to revive parent Kristin Colucci,
who passed out in the school library during an open house event.
» view video
An 11-year-old West Canada Valley boy, a 37-year-old Kenmore mom and a 56-year-old Spackenkill retired teacher all share a heartfelt appreciation for a law that requires a defibrillator in every school building.

This year they were all saved by one - and a variety of well-trained guardian angels, including a custodian, a physical education teacher and a school nurse. These latest saves bring the total number of people revived by school defibrillators to 11 in the last year and a half, since the state Legislature passed a law fervently supported by New York State United Teachers.

On Jan. 22, Kenmore mom Kristin Colucci went into cardiac arrest while attending an evening storytelling event called "Bedtime Bonanza" with her two children, ages 3 and 6.

They were in the western New York library when Colucci suddenly collapsed. School nurse Mary Rose Laux, scheduled to read stories that night, rushed in to find Colucci on the floor and not breathing. She immediately performed CPR and called for the school's defibrillator. With help from a Kenmore police officer called to the emergency, Laux administered two shocks and got Colucci's heart beating again.

"I'm very thankful that the school had a defibrillator and someone who knew how to use it, Colucci said. "I later found out it was Mary Rose's birthday and she gave up going out for dinner to attend the storytelling night."

Colucci said the experience was especially traumatic because her husband died of a stroke just two years ago. He was 43. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone," Colucci said. "I had no family history, no chest pains, not even high cholesterol."

In May, halfway across the state in West Canada Valley Elementary School,

11-year-old James McCooey was swimming laps in gym class when he went into cardiac arrest. Quick thinking by a handful of people including James' twin brother Jacob and the presence of the school defibrillator made the difference. Jacob and physical education teacher Steve Porter got James out of the pool and Barb Ellis, another phys ed teacher, began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. School nurse Millie Ritter came running with the defibrillator and applied it to James, who had no pulse and wasn't breathing. It revived him.

"It was the scariest situation I've ever been in and I wasn't even in the pool," said West Canada Valley TA President Michael Potter. "What's really scary is it could have happened the week before on a field trip to the Utica ballet and we wouldn't have had that device or trained personnel. Our next focus will be training more staff on how to use it. And I'd encourage any schools not complying with the law to get AEDs."

Within 24 hours of the West Canada incident, a defibrillator also proved life-saving at Spackenkill High in Dutchess County. Head custodian Ed Tannini happened to stop at the school around 7:30 p.m. after a last-minute trip with the girls' softball team. "I walked in and somebody yelled, 'Call 911,'" Tannini said. "I immediately went for the AED. When I got there, I saw a man on the floor who wasn't breathing."

It turned out to be retired teacher Steve Nash, who was attending a softball league umpires meeting. Tannini and another umpire at the meeting, retired Pine Plains phys ed teacher Bob Stevenson, administered the AED and performed two-man CPR. "After three times, he started breathing again on his own and then the paramedics came and took over," Tannini said. "I'm convinced the AED saved his life. I don't know if CPR alone would have done it."

"They brought me back from the dead," Nash said. "It's a little ironic. My mother died of a heart attack 20 years ago almost to the day. I wish there had been defibrillators around back then."

Nash said his doctors found the blockage that caused the heart attack and put in a stent. "I feel better now than I did before," he said.

Spackenkill TA President Blanche Wisniewski said the district got the defibrillators after the state law requiring them was approved. "The district has one in every building and has made training available to anyone who wants it," she said. Last year the district offered training during an in-service day and many staffers participated.

"It was a matter of being in the right place in the right time," Tannini said. "And having the right equipment right down the hallway."

- Sylvia Saunders
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