A custodian, who happened to be in the room when 16-year-old Brandon Hernandez touched his head, complained of being dizzy and fell back in his chair during his after-school class at Tottenville High School, sent a message about an unconscious student over the radio, and an assistant principal put out a call to the dozens of staff members on campus trained in CPR.
View First Aid Corps World Map of AED Locations in a larger map
Melendez, who was only several doors away at the time, was the first to make it to the room.
“I could see he was in distress. He was breathing but his breathing was irratic. His color was off,” he said.
As others dialed 9-1-1, Melendez leaned over Brandon.
“Because I am a track coach I knew something was wrong. I started to check his pulse,” he said. “I said, ‘I think we should get the box.’ I called ‘Code Blue.’ At that moment, the training really kicked in.”
Within seconds, school staff were racing into the room with defibrillators. Following directions dictated by the machine, Melendez shocked Brandon twice.
“He let out a breath of air I will never forget in my life,” said Melendez. “It was incredible.”
Brandon’s mother – who had been waiting in the parking lot to pick him up – was hustled inside by another student. She first saw her son, on a stretcher, being wheeled down the hall by fire fighters and emergency medical responders. “I felt like it was a dream,” said Rebecca Hernandez, whose son, prior to that day, had never shown any sign of a heart problem. She rode with him in the ambulance to Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, where he was in an induced coma for 48 tense hours. After that, he woke up.
Doctors told her that her son had not lost any brain function, thanks entirely to the quick response at Tottenville. “I see it as my son’s second birthday,” she said. “Every day I count my blessings, because everybody here worked together; everything worked right. The AED machine saved his life. Mr. Melendez saved his life. He’s our hero.”
After dozens of tests, aided by the microchip in the AED which recorded the activity of his heart that day, doctors still could not determine what caused Brandon’s attack. He underwent surgery to have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator put into place, in the event his heart ever gives way again.
He was able to return to school May 1.
“I don’t remember anything about that day. I woke up in the hospital; I figured something bad had happened,” said Brandon, an inclusion student at Tottenville with P25R. “I was happy to be alive.”