RICHLAND — A Richland teen recovering in a Seattle hospital this week owes his well-being -- and possibly his life -- to several people who rushed to his aid after he collapsed at school Friday.
But the good Samaritans' efforts might have been in vain if it weren't for a briefcase-sized machine the school district bought for $1,600 just a few months ago.
Jeremy Brewer, a freshman at Richland High, collapsed during Friday's lunch break. The quick actions of several students and teachers likely saved his life, as did the fact that they had access to an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
Shortly before noon Friday, Jeremy was running around at the edge of campus with friends. They were on their lunch break. Suddenly, the 15-year-old collapsed.
Keegan Shepherd and Sheldon Liikala, two juniors who saw the teen sink to the ground, immediately ran to a nearby school building, said Principal Tim Praino. They knew they would find a breakroom full of teachers.
Two of the teachers, John Bittinger and Paul Staley, who recently trained to provide first aid and CPR, rushed outside while others called 911 and radioed for one of the new defibrillators.
The district had bought five of the potential lifesavers just this summer, said Joan Gribskov, the district's safety manager. Each of the two high schools got two machines -- one for the main office, and one for the gym. The fifth is for Fran Rish Stadium, right next to Richland High, where both schools' football teams play.
The likelihood of having to use a defibrillator is much higher in high schools than it is in the lower grades, because they're mostly used in cases where athletes overexert themselves, Gribskov explained.
With football season over, the fifth machine was stored in athletic director Mike Edwards' office.
Praino was sprinting to the gym to get a defibrillator, until he heard that Edwards already was en route with the machine from his office.
Edwards recently had gone through training on the defibrillator, but didn't feel too sure of himself when he got the radio call.
"My first thought was, 'I don't remember what they told me in the training,' " Edwards told the Herald Monday.
But when he got to where Bittinger and Staley were performing CPR on Jeremy, he went on auto-pilot -- quite literally.
The AED is called automated for a reason.
A defibrillator sends an electric charge into the body to bring a heart muscle that has gone off its natural rhythm back on track, Gribskov said. It's the kind of machine one sees in the movies, when medics rub a pair of pads together, yell "clear" and zap a limp body back to life.
Except the version used by the school district -- which is the type commonly seen in airports and large office buildings -- does all the crucial steps by itself.
As soon as the briefcase is opened, a recorded voice tells the operator to stay calm and call 911, Gribskov said. It then instructs the person to unpack the adhesive pads and attach them to the victim's bare chest as shown in a diagram on the pads' packaging.
And then the machine takes over entirely.
It analyzes the victim's heartbeat, determines whether an electric shock is the appropriate treatment and if so, applies the shock, Gribskov said.
And that's just what happened Friday. The machine told Edwards it was getting ready to shock Jeremy and to not touch the teen.
"And when it does the shock, it's just like what you see on TV," Edwards said.
The defibrillator checked if Jeremy needed a second jolt and when it decided he didn't, told the humans to resume CPR, even letting out beeps to show them exactly at what pace to apply pressure to the chest.
Less than two minutes had passed since Jeremy collapsed -- and that's essential to avoid lasting damage.
"It's important to have a response within the first three minutes," Gribskov said.
In the next couple of minutes, an ambulance showed up.
The medics asked if the defibrillator shocked the teen and took over. They took Jeremy to Kadlec Regional Medical Center, where doctors found his heart was beating fine, but that he was not yet breathing on his own.
He was flown to Seattle Children's Hospital and was breathing on his own by Saturday.
On Monday, Jeremy was talking but appeared confused, Praino said. Doctors have said it will take the teen a few days to form clear thoughts, but that he is expected to fully recover.
They also said Jeremy was "lucky to have trained individuals working on him within minutes," Praino said.
Bittinger and Staley forced air into his lungs. Edwards had the machine to jump start Jeremy's heart. And two students didn't hesitate a moment to get help.
"It was a great example of teamwork," Praino said.
Just how great became apparent to Edwards only Monday -- when he saw the report doctors downloaded from the defibrillator.
The graph showing Jeremy's heart activity was an almost flat, squiggly line when Edwards first attached the pads to the teen's chest. Ten seconds after the shock was delivered, the usual sharp spikes seen on the heart rate diagram indicated his heart had started beating again.
"I got goosebumps seeing that," Edwards said. "I thought, 'Man -- this works.' "
When the district's safety committee discussed buying defibrillators over the summer, nobody objected, but the general consensus was that they likely would never be needed, Gribskov said.
But before the year was out, one of the relatively inexpensive machines has saved a young man from permanent damage or even death.
"We're certainly thankful we decided to purchase them," Gribskov said.
-- Jacques Von Lunen: 582-1402; email@example.com