On Oct. 29, parents from western Greenwich elementary schools gathered at Hamilton Avenue School for a workshop on the Common Core State Standards.
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It began with a discussion of those new academic criteria. In an instant, though, the focus shifted. A parent collapsed; she had gone into cardiac arrest.
The other parents immediately mobilized to help the unconscious woman. They were led by a quartet including two doctors, a registered nurse and her husband. By administering CPR and using an automated external defibrillator in the building, they were able to save the woman. By the time a Greenwich Emergency Medical Service crew arrived, she had regained consciousness.
Anthony Perna, Dr. Setul Pardanani, Dr. Leora Horwitz, and Caitriona Perna the Saviours
After treatment and testing at Greenwich Hospital, the woman was discharged and returned with her family to their home in the town’s Glenville section.
While the woman’s name has not been disclosed by school district officials, her rescuers are not anonymous. In a ceremony Friday at the district’s Greenwich Avenue headquarters, district and municipal officials recognized those four Glenville School parents: Dr. Leora Horwitz, Dr. Setul Pardanani, registered nurse Caitriona Perna and her husband, Anthony Perna.
“We saw it happen, and then we responded,” said Pardanani, an obstetrician at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. “It was just teamwork.”
The four described a calm response to the woman’s collapse, with the AED quickly deployed to revive her.
“I called for the AED, somebody said they were getting it, they brought it, I grabbed it, I ran to Caitriona, and she put it on,” said Anthony Perna. “It zapped once, then we did chest compressions and she came back. She was losing color, and, all of a sudden, she had color again, which was great. She was confused and uncomfortable, but I told her she would be alright.”
Caitriona Perna, who works at Greenwich Hospital, offered a similar account and praised her husband, a banker, for maintaining his poise.
“He was so calm, and he kept talking to her,” she said. “It was just great.”
While the quartet modestly recounted their actions, others at the ceremony were keen to laud them.
“This story is particularly special because it was citizens who were at an event, unanticipated, who were called into the most important act of duty, and that was saving the life of one of their fellow parents,” said First Selectman Peter Tesei.
The episode also showed the strengths of the town’s first responders, Tesei said. He praised GEMS for providing “the utmost high-quality emergency-medical response that you can find anywhere in the United States.”
In addition to the parents’ efforts, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie highlighted the response of administrators at the workshop, including Deputy Superintendent Ellen Flanagan and Glenville School Principal Marc D’Amico, who both attended Friday’s ceremony.
“There was crowd control, crowd management and crowd care,” McKersie said. “We didn’t practice for this, but we can prepare for this. We were prepared to say `How do we help the rest of the room go to the right place, both literally and figuratively.’ What could’ve been a very emotional time was handled, as I understand, very well.”
As a result of an initiative started in the late 1990s, about 40 public buildings in Greenwich are equipped with AEDs, including at least one at every public school.
Use of AEDs by individuals who are not first responders is uncommon. But the parents’ facility with the device was crucial in helping to save the woman’s life, noted Charlee Tufts, GEMS’ executive director.
“The faster you can utilize CPR and an AED, the better the chance that a person has,” Tufts said. “We get there generally in five minutes or less, but every minute counts.”
While the Glenville mother benefited from the aid of three medical professionals, they emphasized that using an AED does not require expertise.
“It analyzes the heart rhythm, and if it’s the kind of heart rhythm that you can put an electric shock to, then it will tell you, and then it goes ahead and does it for you,” said Horwitz, a primary-care physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “And if it’s not that kind, it will say `continue the CPR.’ Anybody can use it.”