Thursday, April 13, 2006

'Our Hero': School Nurse Saves Life With Defibrillator

April 13, 2006

Gary Bissaillon and Susan Decker
performed CPR on Marcellus school
psychologist Hans Smid, second from left.
At far right is school nurse Debbie
Bowman, who used the defibrillator,
which is on the table.
Debbie Bowman has been a nurse at Marcellus Middle School , 10 miles southwest of Syracuse , for 16 years. On Jan. 23, she learned she hadn't seen everything yet.

At 8:15 that morning, school psychologist Hans Smid was attending a routine meeting at Marcellus Elementary School when the unthinkable happened — his heart stopped.

The 38-year-old Smid collapsed from cardiac arrest. It would be another 15 minutes before the elementary school nurse would report to work. As one colleague dialed 911, another placed a frantic call to Bowman at the middle school.

Gut feeling

"I just dropped everything and ran," Bowman explained. "You just have a gut feeling about things sometimes."

Fortunately, the elementary, middle and high school are on the same campus. Bowman was at the scene in less than a minute.

School principal Gary Bissaillon and elementary teacher Susan Decker already were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Smid, thanks to a program in which district nurses train school personnel throughout the year on life-saving techniques.

The bad news was that the emergency crew had not yet arrived and Smid was not coming around. Fortunately, the school was equipped with an Automated External Defibrillator.

A state law enacted in 2002 and backed by New York State United Teachers requires defibrillators in all public schools and at scholastic events.

The law has already saved several lives, including that of a 16-year-old student from Naples , near Rochester , in November. Teacher Courtney Conrad of the Naples TA and two colleagues used an AED after the student collapsed. Marcellus has had the AED devices since the legislation was passed, Bowman said.

"I screamed, 'Someone get me the AED!' and I had it within seconds," Bowman recalled. "You just go into tunnel vision."

AEDs read heart rhythms and will provide shocks only if they are necessary. The AED advised administering a shock and then a second one. After the second shock, Bowman said, the AED reported no further shocks were necessary.

Still, Smid remained unconscious. Bowman continued CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, aided by the building principal.

Several seconds later, Smid took a deep breath — and so did Bowman. Smid was breathing on his own and showing signs of regaining consciousness when the ambulance arrived.

"We didn't leave them much work to do," Bowman said.

Smid, who has a history of heart problems, is back at school. Whether he would have been so fortunate without the AED is debatable.


"You can't be afraid of the AED," Bowman said. "You're not going to hurt anyone. It won't let you."

For Bowman, Jan. 23 was a day of firsts. It was the first time she ever had to use an AED on school grounds, and it was the first time she had ever met Smid, a fellow member of the Marcellus Faculty Association.

"Debbie is our hero," said MFA President Terry McSweeney.

— Kevin Hart Copyright New York State United Teachers. 800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, New York, 12110-2455. 518.213.6000.
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