Quick Response and Teamwork Saves Boy’s Life

A series of quick thinking, fast action, teamwork, and having the right equipment saved the life of a Sudlersville Middle School boy April 5, when he suffered cardiac arrest during gym class.

Thirteen-year-old Brett Rochester and his classmates were doing sprints when the boy collapsed. Brett had no known history of any heart related problems.

“All of the doctors here (Johns Hopkins Hospital) are saying it’s a miracle,” said Brett’s mother, Jacquie Rochester, Thursday in a telephone interview from the hospital where her son is awaiting heart surgery. “He literally died and the ER staff confirmed that by looking at his liver enzymes. He truly died and they revived him. They say that’s what professional athletes die from.” In fact, in the last few months there have been several high school athletes nationwide who have died from unexpected cardiac arrest.

Brett’s miraculous survival is credited to a combination of having all the right people with all the right skills closely at his side. Reactions by the gym teacher, school nurse, principal, county paramedics, volunteer fire company, state police and others all converged to save Brett’s life.

“When I got down to the gym he was having convulsions on the mat in the gym,” said School Nurse Lisa Palmatary. PE teacher Scotta Higdon had put him in a “recovery position on his side,” she said. At first he was breathing and had a pulse but seconds later he didn’t.

Ms. Palmatary and Principal Kevin Kintop jumped in and began CPR and hooked up the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). “A tragic outcome was averted by the expert and timely use of CPR and the defibrillator by the school nurse and principal,” said Kevin Aftung, chief of Queen Anne’s County Department of Emergency Services.

And as luck would have it, QAC EMS Lt. Rob Morris, usually stationed in Centreville, was driving right in front of the school on his way to visit the crew at Sudlersville’s firehouse house when the 911 call went out.

“Dispatched called and I was less than one minute getting there,” said Morris. “All the stars certainly aligned that day for that kid.” Within minutes Morris and other EMTs stabilized Brett by providing advanced life support, including advanced airway management skills, a highly technical procedure requiring special training that not all emergency responders have.

While EMS was stabilizing the boy, a crew from Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Department worked nearby to create a landing zone for the State Police helicopter. The plan was to fly Brett directly to Johns Hopkins Hospital, but deteriorating weather conditions forced the helicopter to divert to Martins State Airport.

A Baltimore County Paramedic crew met them there and took the boy and his lifesaving team the final leg to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Paramedic Rob Morris stayed with the boy from the school gym to the hospital, continuing to provide advanced life support and airway management, essentially breathing for the boy the entire time.

“Everyone was perfect,” said Mrs. Rochester. Everyone had the knowledge, training, and equipment necessary to revive her son and keep him alive, she said. “We lost his father last October (due to cancer). This is such a blessing not to lose my only child. I am so thankful that all of the resources were there at the school and with the EMS staff. The English language is limited – the words “thank you” just are not enough.”

The equipment that Mrs. Rochester refers to is the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). “Maryland policy states that each High School have a unit. Our Board Members decided to place a unit in each of our 14 schools and the Central Office,” said Toni Schelts, of the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education. “High schools have two units, one for the main building and one available for athletic practices and events. At least two people are trained to use the devices at each school, the school nurse and often a PE teacher. In addition one coach per sport at each school is qualified to use the devices.”

The other lifesaving technique that saved Brett’s life is the advanced airway management technique called Rapid Sequence Induction (RSI). RSI requires sedation and paralysis prior to an intubation procedure. “We are one of the few jurisdictions in Maryland that utilizes the RSI protocol and we are the only jurisdiction on the Midshore that utilizes the technique,” said Dr. Joseph Ciotola, who serves as the Jurisdictional Medical Director for QAC and DES. “It is such a highly technical skill that only the most advanced paramedics with the highest level of clinical skill can do the RSI procedure.”

“With all that’s going on in the county it is good to see that our schools, EMS and volunteers demonstrate such high quality of care and service,” said QAC Commission President Steve Arentz. “This just goes to show you we have one of the premier systems in the country.”

Brett is currently admitted into Johns Hopkins Pediatric ICU for further treatment and evaluation. He is expected to make a full recovery.

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