In late March, during the early morning arrival of students and staff, Vestal school nurse Michelle Hroncich and several educators worked together to save an eighth-grade student’s life.
Shelly Wowk was the first to notice the student in distress. She was serving as a monitor outside the cafeteria where she greets students.
“Students were coming up to go to breakfast at 7:20,” she said. “He was walking down the hall. I said good morning to him, and when he looked at me, one eye bulged. I did a double take. He went straight down, face first, like a board. He didn’t put his arms out or anything.”
Still shaken several days later, Wowk recalled in a trembling voice how she asked the boy if he was okay, but he didn’t answer.
“I asked again and put my hand on his back. His head lolled. He started to have a seizure,” she said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Wowk asked her colleague with the Association of Vestal School Paraprofessionals, Colleen O’Brien, to run and get the nurse.
Teacher Jeremy Daino had just left the cafeteria. Then teacher Patrick Gray came down the hall. “Neither of us could get calls to go out,” said Gray, who left Daino with the boy so he could run to make the 911 call. Principal Sarah Wiggins, who O’Brien had alerted, arrived and directed Wowk to go out front and direct the ambulance crews on how to find the stricken student inside the building.
Arriving for work, nurse Michelle Hroncich rushed to the hallway outside the cafeteria where the student had fallen to the floor. Hroncich instantly put her hospital trauma nursing skills into action. Bending over the boy, she began CPR, breathing into him and compressing his chest again and again and again. She then used an AED to shock his heart.
Hroncich's life-saving actions continued while the ambulance crew came into the school. The student was taken to a local hospital, then airlifted to Syracuse. Later, he was airlifted to New York City. He is reported to be in good condition.
“It was very, very traumatic and very graphic,” Gray said. The student was “gasping for air and his face was extremely, extremely blue. The nurse single-handedly saved his life.”
The life-saving actions of the school nurse are a stark and chilling example of why NYSUT continues to advocate with the state Legislature for a law requiring at least one registered nurse in every school building.
“In our district we are lucky to have a nurse in every building. I can’t help but think about the consequences if we did not,” said Joseph Herringshaw, president of the Vestal TA. As a result of collaboration with the district and the union, there are also two school district nurses to ensure every building has a nurse every day.
“The SRPs, teachers and administrator worked to literally save a life. Initially, when the outcome was uncertain, the EMT said that if he (the student) survives it’s because of the immediate action taken by the staff. How is a nurse in every building even a question?” Herringshaw said.