GRAND ISLAND, NY - They'd followed protocol perfectly. The teacher called 9-1-1. The alert system and school-wide radio frequency notified the principal within seconds. Faculty members rushed to the scene, and administrators, staff and parents did all they could to control the most nightmarish of situations.
But there was still a 10-year-old girl on the floor of the middle hallway in Veronica Connor Middle School. She had no pulse, and although help was on the way, it would take the Grand Island Fire Company a few minutes to arrive.
So it's a good thing help was already there.
"There was a lot of commotion going on," Eleanor Payne said, "but I didn't hear it."
Payne is the school's assistant principal.
She also has another skill.
"When I saw she wasn't breathing, I turned her over, checked her pulse," she said, "and from that point I immediately started CPR."
More than two decades ago, this former softball and volleyball coach needed to become certified in CPR for her job. Grand Island Fire Chief Kevin Koch can't say for certain that the girl would have passed away before his crews arrived, but he said she was "instrumental" in helping save the girl by intervening with CPR. Quick to share the credit, Payne also praised other staff members and parents who helped at the scene.
Payne said she conducted thirty chest compressions before reassessing the situation. She then conducted another CPR cycle, and at that point, the student's color began to return to her face.
Her pulse also returned. She began breathing again. Due to HIPPA laws, her identity has not been released, nor has the medical cause of her condition, but Principal Jerry Parisi said he spoke to the family of the girl, who is resting at the Women's and Children's Hospital.
She arrived at the hospital alive partly because of Payne, who must have a pretty good memory if it's really been two decades since her CPR certification.
"I was re-certified on August 30," Payne said. "I was very confident in what I was doing. I wasn't second-guessing myself."
Maybe that re-certification was fate. Or perhaps just good timing.
The Grand Island Schools released:
Statement issued by Dr. Teresa Lawrence, Superintendent of Schools, on behalf of the family:
We want to thank everyone and we are extremely appreciative of all the help and support. We are especially grateful for the quick response of assistant principal Eleanor Payne and the emergency responders. Our child is doing well and will be returning to school soon.
Thank you for your continued prayers.
Statement issued by Dr. Teresa Lawrence, Superintendent of Schools, and Tak Nobumoto, School Board President on behalf of the District:
On behalf of the Grand Island School District, we wish to extend our ongoing support to the family. We are grateful for the skill, quick reaction and selflessness of our staff, especially Eleanor Payne, and the community's first responders.
Our school community is prepared and looking forward to the student's return.