When the student ran into her office in a panic Jan. 9, 2012, school nurse Mary McDermott, RN, was already having one of her crazier days.
"I can see about 30 kids a day at my job, with issues ranging from ineffective coping to concussions," said McDermott.
"While the image of school nurses may just be handing out Band-aids, we actually serve as counselor, educator and health prevention specialist. I have a lot of crazy days.
"But nothing prepared me for what happened on that day."
Chris Kinsel, a sixth grade student at St. Rose Grammar School in Belmar, NJ, had just seen his teacher collapse at his feet. He immediately ran to get McDermott, and they ran back to find the teacher unresponsive on the floor.
Things happened quickly from there. The principal (who Kinsel had also notified) called 911.
McDermott took action.
"My instincts and training just kicked in," she said. "I immediately assessed the teacher's airway, breathing and circulation, and then started chest compressions.
"It was chaos around me, but I just kept going until the paramedics arrived, remembering all the things I'd just reviewed in my CPR recertification class," she continued. "For some reason I had paid extra close attention in that class, and it was worth it."
When paramedics arrived and loaded her for transport, the teacher coded on the way to the ambulance. A quick defibrillator shock later, and the teacher was sped off to the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.
Value of Knowledge & School Nurses
Today, the teacher is home and fully recovered. And those who were instrumental in saving a life, including McDermott, Kinsel and the first responders, were honored with resolutions and lifesaving awards on Jan. 18 by Matt Dougherty, mayor of Belmar.
For good reason.
According to the CDC, approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. In 92 percent of cases, these arrests end in death, as no one is around to administer CPR or other successful interventions.
"In many ways, this was a recognition of compression-only CPR, and of the chain of survival," said McDermott. "I couldn't have done what I did without the student and principal working with me. We all did the right thing at the right time, and it worked."
Prepared for the Unexpected
Life-threatening and unexpected events like cardiac arrest happen everywhere, including schools. For that and many other reasons, it pays to have expert professional nurses on staff.
Today, 73,697 school nurses practice in the country, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
They provide episodic care, manage chronic conditions, track communicable diseases, promote healthy behaviors, connect children with insurance and healthcare providers, and handle medical emergencies.
Ultimately, they act as a healthcare safety net for all children.
And, as this event shows, for the adults in the school as well.
"I share the school nurse week with Tara Wall, RN, who has been with St. Rose for years," said McDermott.
"We have 320 children in the school and more than a dozen teachers and staff. There's a lot to take care of, more than many people think of when they think 'school nurse.' "We collect data, identify needs, provide interventions and report to the state on health issues," she continued.
"But we're also called upon to be health educators, skilled clinicians and, at times, an emergency nurse," she concluded. "That's exactly what happened on the morning of Jan. 9."
Eseential to Learning
School nurses are critical to the education system, contends McDermott and organizations like the National Association of School Nurses. That's why on the Wednesday of National Nurse Week every year, National School Nurse Day is celebrated (May 9, 2012).
The best school nurses know keeping their skills and knowledge is key to providing the best care for their charges. That's why McDermott was especially attentive during her CPR recertification this year, her first as a school nurse. It paid off.
"I learned that when administering CPR or other interventions, half of it is technical and half of it is gray area," said McDermott.
"You do everything in your power, and hopefully those around you are helping in the best way they can, and then what happens, happens. Doing everything in my power meant using all the new skills I learned in recertification, which is so worth it."
Today, McDermott is back to her daily schedule of multitasking and offering comprehensive care to her students.
But there's definitely a special feeling to her work after this recent event and the public award for her efforts.
She's had a long career ranging from hospice care to clinical nursing, and she's finding that an official resolution signed by the mayor and city council is no small thing.
"It was wonderful to be recognized - so many nurses can go their whole career without some sort of recognition of their efforts," she said.
Amy Lillard is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.