Wednesday, January 15, 2003

A young life saved by a school defibrillator

Staff rescues 16-year-old at Orange-Ulster BOCES
January 15, 2003

NYSUT staffers learn how to use automated defibrillators such as the one at far right.

If it weren't for a new state law requiring portable defibrillators at schools - and quick action by Orange-Ulster BOCES staff - a 16-year-old student who suddenly collapsed in class Dec. 16 probably would have died, medical personnel said.

The young woman had no history of heart problems and recently had a physical by her family physician, said Patricia Simmons, assistant director at the Career and Technical Education Center at Orange-Ulster BOCES in Goshen.

According to emergency reports, the student was in the classroom at about 2:35 p.m. when she turned to a fellow student and said, "I need to sit down." She collapsed and began having seizures. Staffers reported her pulse was weak, she was barely breathing and turning blue.

School nurse Sandra Montest-Hoff arrived quickly and administered CPR, with help from teacher Thomas Kavanah and a student who is a volunteer fireman. When it became clear the teen-ager was in cardiac arrest, a student ran for one of the school's Automated External Defibrillators purchased over the summer. Law enforcement instructors Don Weber and Bob Decker, both trained in using the AED, arrived immediately and attached the pads to the young student so the machine could analyze her condition. With audible instructions, the AED quickly indicated that a shock should be administered.

"The machine told us exactly what to do," Decker recalled. "After the first shock, it told us to continue CPR. After a short period of time, the AED advised us to shock her again." They continued chest compressions and then emergency personnel arrived. EMTs administered oxygen and the AED indicated a third shock should be administered. "After the third shock, she started breathing and the machine detected a faint pulse," Decker said. "The EMTs told us if we had not had that machine, she would not have survived."

The staff's heroic work was kept quiet when the young girl slipped into a coma and had trouble being stablized. After doctors inserted an internal AED, she came around and was discharged from the hospital in early January.

Shining example

"I always knew how wonderful the staff was, but this was such a shining example," Simmons said, noting the board would honor the staff at an upcoming meeting. "It's also an example of how important it is to be proactive. We never would have purchased these AEDs if it hadn't been for the new law. And looking back now, I can't tell you how glad I am that we jumped right on this even before the Dec. 1 (implementation date)."

The teachers involved, members of the Orange BOCES Teachers Association, said they volunteered for training in October - never realizing they would need to use it so soon.

NYC tragedy

Meanwhile, the news was different in New York City, where two students died in schools where there were no defibrillators.

In December, New York City and the state's four other big-city districts requested a reprieve from the new law, saying they needed time to secure funding. The request was rejected by the State Education Department, but there is no penalty for noncompliance.

On Jan. 6, a 19-year-old student died after he collapsed playing basketball at Harry S. Truman High in the Bronx. The next day, a 16-year-old girl died at a public school for disabled students in Staten Island. While it's unclear whether a defibrillator would have saved either student, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg responded by ordering defibrillators to be placed in city schools as soon as possible.

Rachel Moyer, a teacher-activist who worked with New York State United Teachers for the law's passage, is working with New York City school officials to secure donated AEDs. Moyer, a special ed teacher in Port Jervis, began her crusade after losing her 10th-grade son in December 2000 when he collapsed and died during a basketball game at a rural high school where there was no AED.

The Orange County incident was the second time a school's defibrillator has saved a life since the AED law was enacted. In mid-November, just before the kickoff of a football game on Long Island, Locust Valley athletic trainer Whittney Smith used an AED to restart the heart of a 62-year-old spectator who collapsed in the stands.

"We knew this law would save many lives," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin. "Hopefully these latest incidents will convince more school districts to obey the law."

More information about the defibrillator law is available on the NYSUT Web site,, including an informational bulletin and a link to the State Education Department Web page on AEDs.

More info is also available at the official web site of the Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund,

- Sylvia Saunders Copyright New York State United Teachers. 800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, New York, 12110-2455. 518.213.6000.
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