A Wonder Lake family is praising the lifesaving efforts of a team of McHenry High School-West Campus staff members who acted quickly to aid a student after he collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest during a physical education class in September.
Parents of the McHenry West student were finally able to thank the teachers, staff members and police officers during the Oct.15 McHenry High School District 156 Board of Education meeting.
High school staff honored were physical education teachers Jacob Guardalabene, Anna Centella and Robert “Will” Gaddy, along with Amanda Franz, school nurse, and Thomas Henn, security professional. McHenry Police Officer Samuel Shafer, school resource officer, and Officer Jill Foley, who came to the school to help, were also honored.
Each received a plaque from the school district.
While many at the high school had a role in helping care for the student during the Sept. 18 incident, this team not only called 911 but gave the student CPR and used the automatic external defibrillator to support the boy's heart function before paramedics arrived.
“Our gratitude goes out to them,” said the student’s mother. The family asked that the student not be named.
Marsha Potthoff, principal at McHenry West, said this is the first time in her career she’s had to see staff members use CPR training to help a student.
“It’s reaffirmed all of the training that we do,” Potthoff said. “Everyone worked together.”
School officials were thrilled with the happy ending to a scary experience.
“It’s phenomenal,” McHenry High School District 156 Board President Gary Kinshofer said. “This is why we do this job.”
A class like no other
The day started out like a typical late-start Tuesday on Sept. 18, but that changed quickly. At about 9 a.m., three physical education classes – about 100 students – were using the main gym to run PACER tests, which stands for progressive aerobic cardiovascular endurance run.
Teachers noticed the student went down on a knee, and initially thought he was taking a break. When teachers went to check on him, they saw he’d collapsed and his coloring indicated he needed help.
“We just kind of jumped into action,” Guardalabene said.
Centella said PE teachers quickly asked student leaders to move the other students to a different part of the gym, and they closed the large curtain in the gymnasium.
Guardalabene called 911, while other teachers called for the school nurse, and the AED from outside of the cafeteria.
“We all just did our parts and worked together,” Centella said.
Nurse Franz said she and Henn got to the gym at the same time, and both started CPR on the student. Franz said she could immediately tell that the student was in trouble.
“It was pretty emotional. I didn’t feel a pulse,” Franz said.
As Henn continued to help with CPR, Franz quickly prepared to use the AED. She gave the student one shock with the AED before paramedics arrived to take over.
“We were a great team,” recalled Henn, who is a retired police officer.
Officer Shafer, who was checking emails and voicemails when he heard the calls over the staff portable radio, said he arrived in the gym to see Franz and Henn on the floor working on the student.
Shafer, who started his four-year rotation at the school in June, said he’s never seen anything like this at a school. McHenry police work with all McHenry schools, he said.
“Every second makes a big difference,” said Shafer, who noted that Foley heard the 911 call and came to the school to help administer CPR, and assist school staff and paramedics.
Henn said the student’s color had improved slightly by the time paramedics arrived.
Shafer followed the ambulance to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital to meet with the student’s parents.
Franz, a school nurse at West for five years, said she’s used a defibrillator in a hospital setting, but this is the first time she’s used it at a school. “It was a huge team effort,” she said.
While the entire incident lasted a matter of minutes, it seemed more intense for staff at the high school.
“It was terrifying,” said Potthoff, who arrived in the gym as the student was getting CPR.
“Everyone was great, and did their part,” Gaddy said.
Trying to get back to normal
Guardalabene and Henn both said they’ve heard that doctors credit the team’s quick work for the positive outcome. Centella said the hardest part for the teachers was returning to work without knowing how their student was doing.
Franz said it was a relief to see the student during a recent visit to the school. He has since returned to classes.
School officials call her a hero, but Franz said, “I’m just doing what I was trained to do. It’s not any different from what any nurse would have done.”
After the incident, a support team of counselors was activated to help the student’s family and also students at school, particularly those in gym class that day, Potthoff said.
“Everyone was very upset,” she said.
There are more than a dozen AED devices in the district, with most located near athletic areas and cafeterias at both West Campus and East Campus. Two AED devices are at McCracken Field, which is a hub of athletic and co-curricular activity.