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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Quick thinking at Plant High may have saved a life

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Published:   |   Updated: May 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM

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Plant High students were running around the quarter-mile track at their school a few minutes after noon Tuesday, part of a mandatory fitness test. It seemed like just a routine physical education class for instructor Carrie Mahon, but then a 15-year-old freshman boy fell to the ground and didn't get up.

What happened in those next precious minutes was testament to the life-saving training school personnel take and the poise Mahon and others showed under pressure. Everything worked like it should, and now a young boy who could have died on that track is alive.

“It's something we're trained to do,” assistant principal Laura Figueredo said, and while she and the others who helped kept their cool — well, when it was over and the whole event sunk in, they weren't that cool.

“I had to release it a little bit,” Figueredo said.

Maybe a little trouble getting to sleep later?

“A little.”

Here's what happened.

Mahon, who has taught 12 years at Plant, saw the student had collapsed and hurried to his aid.

“He was not communicating with us,” she said. “It was evident something needed to be done.”

Figueredo, who is retiring in June after 28 years at Plant, was on lunch room duty not far from the track and was called.

“I heard (Mahon) say, 'I need the nurse,'” Figueredo said. “She was very calm. But then I heard her say, 'Call 9-1-1.' You could tell the urgency in her voice.”

Nurse Kayla Spilman, in her first year at Plant, quickly began CPR while Figueredo rushed to fetch an automated external defibrillator from the concession stand at the track. The AED machines cost about $1,250 each and every school in the county has at least one.

The machine, about the size of a backpack, has electrodes that are attached to the patient's chest.

The machine automatically applies a shock to the heart if needed.

It was needed.

Principal Robert Nelson was off campus when the incident occurred, helping his 10-year-old daughter celebrate her birthday. He rushed to the hospital where the student was taken to meet with the family as Plant closed ranks around one of its own.

At the request of the family, the school is releasing little information about the student, other than his condition is stable.

As Plant's staff gathered Wednesday to tell the story, though, you could tell by the relieved looks on the faces of those involved that a day that could have been catastrophic had turned into one of the school's finest hours.

“It was a team effort,” Nelson wrote in an email to the staff, “and I could not be more proud of my employees today. ... This incident is the reason we receive training in emergency procedures, CPR, and first aid.

“You hope you never have to deal with this type of situation, but (you) have to be prepared to provide that necessary assistance while remaining calm. I highly encourage everybody to receive CPR and first aid training; you never know when you might need it ... and we needed it today.”

We demand so much of teachers and administrators. We expect them to mold character, fill young minds and satisfy the demands of bureaucrats while anticipating and solving every problem a parent or student can imagine. It takes a special person to do that, especially when the stakes are as high as they were this time.

You can only imagine how bad things could have been, someone said to Spilman.

“Yeah, it could have been,” the nurse replied. “But it didn't happen.”

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