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Quick thinking on part of Unionville staff saves coworker's life

Unionville Elementary School nurse Jill Fagala, at left, and teacher assistant Karen Baucom, began CPR and utilized an automated external defibrillator (AED) when a coworker collapsed when her heart stopped at the school.

In the course of a school day, hundreds of events occur that educators are trained for and expect in education.

In the blink of an eye, however, the unthinkable can happen and those same individuals are forced to make a split-second decision that can literally save a life.

Such was the case this past Friday (Feb. 27) when Unionville Elementary Principal Sharyn VonCannon thought her school day would end normally, with the ringing of the dismissal bell.

When she heard a 911 call over her school radio, however, she knew the day would end quite differently.

“As I bolted in the door from the bus lot, I discovered a staff member lying on the floor face down,” VonCannon said. “Within a matter of seconds, a code blue was called and the on-site medical response team was in full action.”

When no heartbeat or pulse could be found on Lisa Staton, the after school director at the school, Unionville nurse Jill Fagala instructed the team members as to their next move.

Teacher assistant Karen Baucom began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while Fagala unpacked the automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable electronic device that can diagnose a heart attack and apply electrical shock, which hopefully will restore the heart to a normal rhythm.

“Within seconds she had the machine hooked to the patient,” VonCannon said. “When the words “shock advised” appeared on the screen, she knew this was a matter of life or death.”

By the time paramedics arrived at the school, the patient had regained consciousness and was speaking. Once Ms. Staton was in the care of the medical professionals at Carolina Medical Center-Union, a member of the Emergency Medical Services team came over to speak to VonCannon.

“He told me in his 28 years, he had never seen anything like what he had witnessed in a school setting,” she said. “He said that the school personnel appeared to be a ‘medical team’ already on the scene when the professionals arrived. Every detail of the Unionville School medical plan was followed and carried out perfectly.”

Teachers sheltered students, retrieved the AED machine, took over the dismissal of the buses, provided the teacher’s medical information sheet, called her family, and carried out the life-saving techniques as trained.

“We are so thankful for the on-going required medical training that Union County Public Schools offers each year to school employees,” VonCannon said. “Our friend and staff member is currently at CMS-Main where she has been diagnosed with Ventricular Fibrillation. This condition is sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).”

According to the American Heart Association, Ventricular fibrillation (v-fib for short) is the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance. The lower chambers quiver and the heart can't pump blood, causing cardiac arrest.

A nurse at CMC told VonCannon, “You ladies are amazing; no way would she be alive today without the shock and compressions.”

“Educators really need to take all medical training very seriously,” VonCannon said. “You never know when you may save a life as a result of the training. I am incredibly proud of the fast response of the medical team and of the staff at Unionville Elementary School. We certainly do have heroes in our midst.”

VonCannon said that Staton has a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which caused her heart to stop. HCM is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick, making it harder for blood to leave the heart. This forces the heart to work harder to pump blood.

Every UCPS school has at least one AED on site, with school personnel trained every two years.

Written by: Unionville Elementary Principal Sharyn VonCannon
Posted: Mar 04, 2015 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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