Wendy Swain was patrolling the schoolyard at recess one afternoon last July at summer school in Vancouver. Suddenly, two students came running to her, shouting that their friend had fallen. “And she’s not waking up!”
As a grade one teacher, Wendy was used to students playing tricks, but when she saw the girl lying face down on the field, she knew this was no joke. She sprinted over and told the other students to run to the office for help.
“There was no life in this human,” Wendy recalls. “This 12-year-old girl — who I’d been building a bond with all summer — was completely unresponsive.” She dialed 9-1-1 from her cell phone, but with reception cutting in and out, her panic began to build.
Started chest compressions
The dispatcher told Wendy to send a student to get the school’s defibrillator. Then he told her to turn the girl onto her back and start chest compressions.
“Don’t die, please don’t die,” Wendy said as she repeatedly pressed down on the girl’s chest. Meanwhile the student returned to say there was no defibrillator.
On the phone, the dispatcher counted out the compressions: “One, two, three, four — and we’re going to do this 600 times, Wendy.” His encouragement kept Wendy calm and helped her recall her previous training in CPR. “He really brought me back to reality and made me feel like I had someone there with me.”
Within 10 minutes the ambulance was there. Paramedics took over the chest compressions and hauled out their defibrillator, quickly attaching the electrodes to the girl’s body. As Wendy watched, one shock from the machine started her heart.
Before the girl was put into the ambulance, she had her vital signs back.
Defibrillators in schools
Less than a week later, Wendy and the school principal visited the student in the hospital and met her grateful family. “She was wrestling on the bed with her twin brother, and it looked like absolutely nothing had happened.”
Today the girl is doing well. Doctors found no obvious cause to explain her cardiac arrest.
As for Wendy, she has become a passionate advocate for getting automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in all schools across Vancouver.
“It seems as necessary as a fire extinguisher if you ask me,” she says. She also encourages other teachers and friends to get trained in CPR and first aid.
“The school is right beside the hospital so paramedics arrived quickly with the defibrillator,” said Wendy. “It’s scary to wonder what if they didn’t get there in time to shock her heart.”