When 76-year-old Kathleen Fabian’s heart stopped at her granddaughter’s Woodside High School graduation last month, her life was restored not by a team of physicians but a handful of ordinary people with access to lifesaving technology.
The four heroes — Woodside High’s custodian Jerome Clarke, campus aide Sekope Tagilala and health aide Diana Phillips, along with San Mateo County Sheriff’s Deputy Owen Yoch — will be honored this afternoon at a meeting of the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors.
Fabian’s ordeal began when she collapsed following the crowded graduation ceremony June 8. Fabian’s daughter, Mary Ann Fabian, immediately flagged down Tagilala and Clarke.
Yoch, a school resource officer who had been directing traffic at the high school, received word of the emergency on his radio and made a critical decision — to radio Clarke to get one of the school’s Automated External Defibrillators. The portable, lunchbox-size devices analyze heart rhythms, offer voice-prompted instructions and, if necessary, deliver a potentially life-saving shock to someone in cardiac arrest.
The AEDs were placed throughout the Sequoia Union High School District in January as part of Sequoia Healthcare District’s HeartSafe program, launched in 2006. The community program includes training in how to operate an AED and perform CPR, said district CEO Stephani Scott.
Since the program’s inception, nearly 500 people have been trained to operate the 60 units placed in schools, patrol cars, and the sites of festivals and athletic events in southern San Mateo County.
It was that training that saved Fabian’s life.
AED in hand, Clarke ran to Fabian, who was receiving chest compressions from Tagilala and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from her daughter. At the same time, Phillips had run from her office to help.
Phillips opened the AED, which confirmed Fabian was without a heartbeat, then administered a jolt of electricity. Phillips followed up with 30 chest compressions and watched as life returned to Fabian’s body.
“During that time, I didn’t hesitate at all,” Phillips recalled. “I used the training I was taught.”
Kathleen Fabian is recovering after a three-week stay in the hospital. Her daughter Mary Ann said the quick action of the four heroes and the AED device was critical to Fabian’s survival.
“This could have ended disastrously, but it didn’t because so many people knew what to do,” Mary Ann Fabian said.
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