January 2013 Issue
December 20, 2012

Custodian brought back to life, thanks to quick-thinking members and an AED

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Gathering for a joyous reunion at Sayville High School are, from left, science teacher James Knote; nurse Ellen Gugliotta; high school juniors Nicole Del Gaudio and Emma Patterson; Principal Ron Hoffer, custodian Mark Moskwa; junior Sabrina Mayrose; nurse's aide Sallie Pellegrini; science teacher Jenn Stewart-Hassett; nurse Susan Rende and science teacher Louis Gittler. Photo by Linda Mittiga.

Part-time custodian Mark Moskwa was sweeping the halls of Sayville High School one day in November when he collapsed. A student discovered him crumpled on the floor, lifeless.

He was 50 feet from the school nurse's office, where an automated external defibrillator (AED) was located.

"When we got to him, he was dead," said school nurse Ellen Gugliotta, a member of the Sayville Teachers Association. "He had no pulse. He was purple. He wasn't breathing. He wasn't responsive at all."

Chemistry teacher Jim Knote started CPR and nurse Sue Rende, along with Gugliotta, got the AED going. Nurse's aide Sallie Pellegrini assisted, as did teachers Jenn Stewart-Hassett and Lou Gittler.

"We continued CPR with the AED. He had five shocks," Gugliotta said.

Because classes were about to change, the school was put on lockdown so the team could continue to work on Moskwa.

"It felt like four hours but it was 15 minutes," said Gugliotta, who worked as an emergency nurse for many years. "But then the ambulance came and he had a pulse by the time he left here. Afterward, it took us a couple of days to get back to normal. We were pretty shook up."

The nurses, teachers and schoolrelated professionals knew just what to do to save Moskwa's life, thanks to the presence of an AED and annual training.

After strong advocacy from NYSUT, Gov. George Pataki signed legislation in 2002 that requires all schools to have AEDs.

"NYSUT is proud of its efforts to enact legislation mandating an AED in every school, and we are proud of our faculty and health care workers who are able to respond to these life-threatening emergencies," said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT vice president who oversees health care for the union.

Moskwa's rescue is dubbed "Save #63" at the AED advocacy site — www.la12.org — established in memory of Lou Acompora, a 14-year-old Northport lacrosse goalie who died in 2000 after blocking a shot with his chest. His parents believed he could have been saved with an AED and lobbied to have one in every school.

Retired Port Jervis teacher Rachel Moyer, whose son, Greg, died of sudden cardiac arrest playing basketball at school, was also a strong voice of advocacy alongside NYSUT.

Moyer has since raised funds to donate more than 1,000 AEDs to schools nationwide as part of Parent Heart Watch, and has trained more than 15,000 people in CPR and AED use.

"Rachel Moyer and the Acompora family have made it their life's quest," said Alan Lubin, retired teacher and former NYSUT executive vice president who spearheaded NYSUT's advocacy of the AED law.

At the time of the law's passing, Lubin said, "AED's were in prisons, but not in schools — yet it was still opposed as an unfunded mandate.

This piece of legislation has proven its value again and again and it will keep on doing so."

A half hour before he collapsed, Moskwa was working on the school roof, said Tim Southerton, president of the Sayville TA and a NYSUT Board member.

That same morning, Southerton was stopped by Moskwa's wife, Regina Weber Moskwa, a teacher aide and Sayville TA member. She thanked Southerton for helping to set up a good health insurance plan.

Her husband, she said, had heart problems.

Southerton, who helped choose the health insurance plan for a consortium of four districts, and is directly involved in the management of the plan, took the compliment to heart. "It's a real hands-on health insurance. It's very personal to me," he said.

Moskwa was in the hospital for six days. After his release, he came to the school to thank his colleagues. "He would've been dead without the defibrillator," said Southerton. "The EMTs were shocked he was alive."