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High school EMT students revive man in cardiac arrest

Students responded to man down at school event and achieved ROSC for patient; Elco High School program has been training EMTs for more than three decades

By Marylouise Sholly
Lebanon Daily News

MYERSTOWN, Pa. — Students of Elco’s emergency medical technician program got a lesson they won’t soon forget when they were involved in a real-life medical emergency recently at the high school.

An elderly gentleman visiting the school for a musical program suffered cardiac arrest and was found unresponsive; without a pulse.

A number of students as well as the EMT instructor responded to the emergency and initiated CPR, with astounding results — a regained pulse; a restarted heart in a person clinically deceased.

About a dozen students responded to the emergency; a few brought equipment to the scene. Some waited to show the ambulance personnel where to go, and at least four performed chest compressions on the man.

“This is the first time they’ve had to respond to an emergency of this type,” said David Zuilkoski, district superintendent. “The students knew where they needed to go and what they needed to get, and then they responded.”

The incident ended, for the students, when the man was transported to a hospital.

“To say I am proud of our students is an understatement,” Zuilkoski said. “If we didn’t have the EMT program here at the high school, this code ‘save’ would never have happened, and a gentleman would have lost his life.”

Elco was the first school district in the state to offer a program that teaches students to become emergency medical technicians. It may still be the only school district that offers such a program, Zuilkoski said.

Paramedic Dave Kirchner initiated the EMT program in 1981. At the time, he was conducting EMT classes in the county and wondered why schools weren’t doing the same thing.

One particular incident brought home the wisdom of the idea, when Kirchner responded to a call for a cardiac arrest, and a daughter of the unconscious man was pacing the floor, upset that she hadn’t known what to do to help her father.

“I thought ‘why are we graduating kids who don’t even know CPR,’” Kirchner said.

Elco’s program is much more than CPR instruction, however. It certifies students as EMTs.

“They learn everything from CPR to childbirth to extricating accident victims from vehicles,” said Eric Burkholder, one of the two current EMT instructors.

Loren Miller shares teaching duties with Burkholder.

“Once they have their EMT certification, they are employable. We give them a skill set for which they don’t have to do anything else,” Burkholder said.

After graduation, some students work on basic life support ambulances as EMTs; others have taken jobs at Hersheypark as EMTs, and still others further their education by becoming paramedics or registered nurses.

Brittany Houtz, 16, of Newmanstown, is an EMT student who wants to become an RN.

“I wanted to do something bigger; be a part of a family that helps others,” Houtz said of her reason to enter the EMT program.

Austin Thomas, 16, of Richland is planning a career as a paramedic in the Army; an EMT license is a prerequisite.

“I started running with a fire department (Neptune, in Richland), so this is something I definitely wanted to do,” Thomas said. “Learning how to deal with patients, especially at the scene of an accident, has been helpful.”

Many of southcentral Pennsylvania’s first responders and other medical personnel are graduates of Elco’s EMT course, Zuilkoski said.

That includes Steven Shay, D.O., a doctor at Schaefferstwn Family Practice, and Mike Seifert, a physician’s assistant at Elco Family Health Center in Myerstown.

“This program is a medical stepping stone for several types of careers,” Burkholder said.

It wasn’t difficult to start the program back in the early 1980s; the administration was all for the idea, Kirchner said.

“The biggest problem was that we didn’t fit a mold; the state (Department of health) didn’t know what to do with us,” Kirchner said. “They didn’t know under what category we should be in, so we ran as a pilot program for the first six or seven years.”

Colleges or vocational-technical schools ran EMT programs, but it was a first for a high school.

Eventually, the state decided that Elco needed to become an EMT training institute under the Department of Health. Students in the program get credits toward graduation.

The course is open to students who are at least 16 years old. They meet every day for a year, then test for certification at the end of the school year.

“Most students come into the program without any medical background,” Burkholder said. “They receive a huge gamut of information. They have a sense of maturity in order to do the class.”

The students don’t only have written quizzes. They have practicums, where they take part in hands-on scenarios.

That includes riding along on ambulances as probationary members of the team, Burkholder said.

“The life lessons have proven to be substantial; it’s not just about EMT, and that’s so cool,” Burkholder said.

©2015 the Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pa.)