When Sue Johnson reported to work on April 6 at Crestwood Primary School in Mantua, she expected it to be like any other day in her role as an administrative assistant.
“I had duty from 8:40-9:05 a.m. and then went back to my office to get some paperwork together for Sherry Peters, our director of pupil services,” she said. “I walked in her office and we chatted for a minute. Then I started to feel dizzy, and I reached down to grab a chair to steady myself and that’s all I remember.”
For Sherry, the details of that day are a little less fuzzy.
“Sue was on the ground. Although her eyes remained open I could tell she was unresponsive,” she said. “The first thing that came to mind was that she had a seizure.”
Sherry called for help and Tammi Kraynak, medical assistant with Akron Children’s school-based health services, ran into her office while other staff members called 9-1-1 and fetched the building’s AED (automated external defibrillator).
“Sue fell in the tightest space in Sherry’s office, so I had to leap over the desk to get to her,” said Tammi.
While Tammi began assessing her vitals and breathing, other staff called the district’s assigned registered nurse, Laura Ebie, to alert her to the situation.
“I was told there was an emergency, but I didn’t know to what extent and whether it involved a student or staff member,” said Laura.
In the meantime, Sue started to turn blue and stopped breathing, so Tammi began to administer CPR.
“We were really worried we had lost her,” said Sherry, who was still kneeling by Sue’s side holding her hand.
Laura arrived within minutes and took over CPR while others helped set up the AED.
“After the leads were in place, the machine advised us to shock her,” said Laura. “That one shock got her pulse back.”
Emergency crews transported Sue to University Hospitals Portage Medical Center.
“Once I was stabilized in the emergency department I was taken to the Cath Lab for a cardiac catheterization,” said Sue. “The doctors couldn’t find a blockage or any reason for why I had a heart attack—all my tests came back normal.”
Sue continued to have episodes of ventricular fibrillation and was transferred to University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center in Cleveland where doctors implanted an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) which can act as both a pacemaker and a defibrillator should Sue’s heart get out of rhythm.
Although she has yet to return to work, she hopes to soon. In addition to new medications, Sue plans to start cardiac rehabilitation to help build her strength and stamina. When she does return, she can expect to have lots of people keeping a close eye on her.
“Typically, Sue is in her office by herself,” said Sherry. “On the day of her heart attack she was in the right place at the right time for plenty of people to help her. It was a perfect storm.”
Both Laura and Tammi, who have worked in school health for 4 years, say this was their first major medical event in a school setting.
“After it happened it took me a while to decompress,” said Laura. “I kept asking myself if there was anything I could have done better or differently, but in the end I did what I could. We were lucky to have the outcome we did.”
Sue still gets emotional when she thinks about that day.
“How do you repay someone for saving your life?” she said. “There are no words, except thank you.”