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Staten Island staff uses teamwork to save lives

New York Teacher

Teamwork often comes into play when UFT members are doing their jobs — and sometimes, as it did at lunchtime on Nov. 7 at the Richard H. Hungerford School, a District 75 school in Stapleton, Staten Island, it can save a life.

“Unfortunately, we get a lot of practice,” Chapter Leader Al Vota said.

When Tyler Japper, a 20-year-old student with autism, suffered a seizure in the lunchroom and subsequently stopped breathing, the Hungerford school staff, starting with paraprofessional Osama “Sam” Saad, took immediate action.

The student had been agitated and Saad was in the process of calming him down. “He said, ‘Light, light,’ and then got stiff,” Saad explained. “I turned his head a little because he was foaming at the mouth, but he stopped breathing and started to turn blue.”

That’s when paraprofessionals Antoinette Borriello and Mike Perry also stepped in.

The three lowered the student and placed him flat on the floor. Borriello, part of the building response team, alerted the nurses and notified the secretaries in the main office to call 911 and then observed the student’s vital signs. Perry began to administer CPR.

“I checked his breathing and he was completely unresponsive,” Perry said. “I started to administer chest compressions as Sam counted. I think I did 80 to 100 chest compressions in over a minute.”

Stephen Altmark, an occupational therapist, was eating lunch in his car at the time and heard about the incident over the school walkie-talkie. Altmark, also a paramedic who had emergency equipment in his vehicle, drove to the door nearest the lunchroom and ran in.

“When I got there, he was still unconscious but was starting to come out of it,” Altmark said. “The nurses had joined in assisting and were doing a great job, so I just monitored his vital signs and kept him comfortable until EMS came.”

While these incidents are relatively commonplace at the school, the staff’s preparedness and professionalism are key to good results, Vota said.

Just a few days before, on Nov. 2, paraprofessional Angela Colella was with her student in the lunchroom when she saw a student choking in a wheelchair nearby. Colella, also a licensed emergency medical technician since 2004, acted quickly to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

“It’s a little harder to do when someone is in a wheelchair,” said Colella. “Once he started to breathe, I swept the food out of his mouth so he wouldn’t inhale it again.”

Altmark said one of the keys to their successful responses is that “everyone thinks of everyone here like their own family member.”

Borriello said it was a genuine team effort by the entire staff.

“Tyler is here not because of one person’s efforts,” Borriello said. “He’s alive because everyone did their job and worked together as a team. It makes you proud to work at this school.”

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