When the shiny new defibrillator was installed near the gymnasium at Queen Victoria Elementary School last fall, acting principal Steve Yull never dreamt he would be the first person to need it.
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He is only 41, had never had heart problems before and says he had no symptoms before he suddenly blacked out in a meeting room.
“I was speaking with one of the teachers one minute and then the next minute I wasn’t. I had no pain or shortness of breath — no feeling of anything remotely going wrong. But I guess something was pretty wrong,” says Yull, a father of two.
Luckily for Yull, Queen Victoria was equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED). Perhaps even more fortunate was that his friend and vice-principal Holly Shanlin was nearby at the time and able to use the life-saving device on him.
AEDs are becoming increasingly common in public buildings and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board hopes to have one in every school over the next few years. So far, 46 of the board’s 114 schools have the devices — through the Heart and Stroke Foundation — that use paddles to electroshock a patient out of cardiac arrest.
Shanlin had undergone defibrillator training and was trained in CPR and general first aid.
It was just after 4 p.m. on Feb. 20, a Thursday, when she was called from her office.
She found Yull face down on the floor, trying to breathe. She told one of the teachers to call 911 and then Yull stopped breathing. Shanlin rolled him over.
“I said, ‘I’m starting CPR now.’ And I told one teacher to get the AED. … I opened Steve’s shirt. As I was doing CPR, a teacher got the pads ready to go.
“We let the AED cycle through. It told us a shock was advised. So we shocked him. You could see him twitch and some colour came back in his face.
“I kept going with the CPR. … All of a sudden Steve took a breath, kind of gasping. So I stopped CPR. The paramedics came in and put oxygen on him. Two minutes after that, he started talking to us.”
Yull spent a week in hospital and is expected to be off work for several more weeks as he recuperates at home. He says doctors told him it was an unusual heart attack. He had no blockages and there were no apparent abnormalities with his heart. He doesn’t smoke and is in good shape. It was a case of something electrical going wrong.
“It’s definitely something that everyone at the school has been talking about,” Shanlin says.
The school, located on Forest Avenue in Corktown, has more than 500 children from kindergarten to Grade 8.
Teachers in higher grades have been using the experience as a chance for youngsters to learn about 911 and “how to go about getting help when you are in a situation that is bigger than you,” she says.
“It was quite an experience. It has affected all of us. We keep saying if it could be perfect, it was. The end result is that I still have a friend. Steve’s wife still has a husband and his kids still have a dad. Everybody still has their guy.”
Yull is believed to be the first staff member to be saved by a defibrillator at a board school.
“The doctors were clear that without Holly, the other life-saving measures and the defibrillator, I would not be here today,” he says.