Child’s life saved through teamwork and training

It was a typical Wednesday in October for Melanie Pyrtle’s third-grade class. The young students at Scott Teays Elementary in Scott Depot, West Virginia had just begun physical education class and were warming up with a jog around the gymnasium. Then, without warning, PE teacher Cory Atwood saw one of the boys suddenly collapse. At first glance, he thought that the 8-year-old was having a seizure, but he quickly realized that it was even more severe.

Trying to stay calm

“I tried to stay as calm as possible,” Cory recalls. He sent one student to the office for help, then spotted Melanie, the class’s teacher, and asked her to alert the school nurse.

“I was sure our nurse was unavailable due to going between two schools,” Melanie says. “I immediately called 911.”

Kristi Damron, the school secretary, rushed from the office to the gymnasium and moved in next to Cory to examine the boy. That’s when she realized that the student wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

A dire situation

Kristi used her two-way radio to alert Principal Melissa Isaacs and Assistant Principal Monica Dobbins, who arrived quickly. Realizing that the boy had likely suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), Kristi started performing CPR and Melissa sent someone to retrieve the school’s automated external defibrillator (AED).

“I never imagined that I would have to perform CPR and use an AED on an 8-year-old child,” Kristi says. “I am so very thankful for the training and certification I have through my job.”

I never imagined that I would have to perform CPR and use an AED on an 8-year-old child. I am so very thankful for the training and certification I have through my job.

— Kristi Damron
school secretary, SCA rescuer

Kristi continued performing CPR for a full two minutes on the unconscious student until the ZOLL® AED arrived. Cory and Kristi then moved quickly to apply the pads and operate the AED, which provided step-by-step instructions, advising that they continue CPR but not to administer a shock. The paramedics arrived soon after and took over, applying their own AED and administering a shock to the student.

A remarkable recovery

The 8-year-old was resuscitated and taken to CAMC Women’s and Children’s Hospital in critical condition, then moved to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. There, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to thicken, and underwent surgery to receive a dual chamber implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

He spent two weeks in the hospital and two months in recovery. While he will need to be monitored for the condition throughout his life, he is now back at school and doing well.

While no parent wants to imagine their child going through such a life-altering experience, the quick actions of Kristi, Cory, Melanie, Melissa, and the paramedics, along with the availability of lifesaving AEDs in the school, enabled this young SCA victim to return to a happy, thriving childhood.

“His recovery was remarkable,” Kristi says. “He came back to the school to visit us in mid-November. It’s just crazy, given what happened, that he’s doing as well as he is.”

Left to right: SCA Survivor, Cory Atwood (PE Teacher), Kristi Damron (School Secretary), rescuers

A call to action

The child’s entire family is incredibly thankful that the Scott Teays Elementary School staff is trained on first aid every year. But his mother stresses that this is not necessarily the case everywhere.

“I think it is important for parents and school staff across the state and throughout our country to recognize that CPR training and cardiac plans are not required in schools,” the student’s mother says. “Without people getting involved locally on their own, my son may not have had the outcome he did. I feel it is extremely important to advocate for laws requiring these safety protocols to be put in place at all schools. Until then, get involved with your child’s school and work with them to find local resources available to provide [first aid] training and AEDs.”

The school, which had only one AED on hand at the time of the incident, has since received a second AED as a donation.

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