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Michigan School Staffers Save Girl with Defibrillator

FLINT, Mich. -- Ashley Palmer, 17, a student at Davison Alternative High School, knows she owes her life to the quick action of school staff and an in-school defibrillator.

Lorraine Lori Ayers, 42, of Richfield Township, Ashley s mother, said a Hurley Medical Center doctor credited the quick work and defibrillator for saving her daughter s life Oct. 24 outside the school.

On Monday night, the Board of Education and a crowd of spectators gave the mother, her daughter and four staff members a standing ovation.

Diagnosed 18 months ago with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that causes her heart to suddenly race, Ashley had her worst-ever attack as she left school Oct. 24 to go home. When she collapsed outside the school, staff members rushed to her side with the defibrillator and found her with no heartbeat and not breathing.

Acting on the training they received earlier this year, four staff members quickly hooked Ashley up to the machine, restarted her heart and breathing with the defibrillator and performed CPR.

Honored Monday were Christina McWilliams, secretary to the Davison High School principal; Cheri Steinkraus, the attendance secretary; Evelyn Ailing, a high school math teacher; and Jason Vannest, a guidance counselor. Vannest was not able to attend the board meeting.

Ashley spent eight days in the hospital and now has a tiny defibrillator installed in her chest and is on new medicine to control her heart, Ayers said.

Ayers and Ashley hugged each of the rescuers at the meeting, and Ayers choked with emotion when she expressed her thanks for the quick work of the staff.

If the defibrillator had not been there, she would have been gone, Ayers told the board. I want to thank you all so much. I hope all the schools have it. Thank you so much for saving my daughter.

More school districts are investing in the portable devices. In 2004, the Flushing school district reportedly was the first in the county to place an automated external defibrillator in every school building.

Other districts followed, including Flint, which approved fitting all school buildings with defibrillators in 2006.

Ashley hugged and thanked her rescuers. She has no memory of the attack or the rescue effort.

The four staff members have earned a new nickname around the school - Ashley s Angels - said Sue Henkel, principal of the alternative high school.

Staff members said they were grateful for the training they received.

I thank God for our training, McWilliams said. I had never done CPR for real, and it s not like on the mannequin. It s the scariest thing I ve ever done. I truly believe God intervened.

Ailing said she was in the office and overheard the call for help to 911 and rushed to Ashley.

It was like running in slow motion, Ailing said. It was a little overwhelming.

Superintendent Clay Perkins said a recording in the device indicated that the machine was employed in seconds and that the four staffers could not have acted any quicker.

Journal staff writer Beata Mostafavi contributed to this report.

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