By Charlie Warner, Special to the Independent
As freshman Sam Tyrrell took his seat in his sixth-period Spanish 1 class at Laguna Beach High School last week, other students started helping teacher Jose Luis Gonzalez at the whiteboard at the far end of the room. Gonzalez announced a routine upcoming quiz. But last Tuesday would be anything but routine for Sam.
Without warning, Sam’s heart apparently stopped and he fell to the floor.
“I thought he was joking around at first when I saw him on the ground,” said Gonzalez. “When I realized he wasn’t, I immediately called the office. Then I checked for his pulse and looked to see if he was breathing. Something just kicked in.”
Gonzalez said he told students to give him space and then began performing CPR. A student called 911 and was able to describe the scene to dispatchers, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also had presence of mind to instruct a student to fetch the athletic trainer, Tim Crilly, who happened to be near by at the time. Crilly was able to use an automated external defibrillator, a device that helps the heart start beating regularly after cardiac arrest. In a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrived.
Through Crilly’s use of the defibrillator and Gonzalez’ exertions, Sam made it to the hospital, said his mother, Kelly Tyrell.
Sam was put in a medically induced coma as he was transferred between hospitals. He woke up from the coma two days later, she said. “He is totally fine now,” said Ms. Tyrrell in an interview from Sam’s side at Mattel’s Children’s Hospital at UCLA. “He’s laughing and making jokes.”
Ms. Tyrrell said that doctors have not determined the cause of Sam’s heart attack. The Tyrrell family has no history of heart disease and his toxicology screen came back negative, as have several other tests scanning for disease, she said.
It is especially puzzling as the 15-year-old is a track runner, a sport that requires high cardiovascular performance. Sam is a sprinter, and runs the 100- and 200-meter dash, according to his proud mom.
“If it wasn’t for his quick thinking, Sam would’ve died,” Ms. Tyrell said of Gonzalez. “He doesn’t even have brain damage, which could’ve easily happened.”
When they return home, the Tyrells intend to throw a fiesta for Señor Gonzalez. “It feels stupid to say thank you to him. It’s is just so much more, what he did for Sam and for our family.” Sam should be home by Monday, she said.
“I love all my students, and almost see them as my kids,” said Gonzalez affectionately. “I put everything I had to get him to come back. It was beyond nerve-racking. Thank God I didn’t freeze up; instincts just kicked in.”
Gonzalez later praised the school district for offering CPR training and providing help to other students traumatized by their classmate’s situation.
“As much as they tell me that I’m a hero, in all honesty, I don’t know if what I did made the difference. Anybody would’ve done the same thing.”
Sam’s mom has a new mission. She wants everyone in town to undergo CPR training. “It’s really not that hard to learn,” she said. “Especially when seconds could make the difference in life and death.”
Teachers are required to learn CPR to earn their teaching credential. The school district offers many opportunities for teachers to take life saving classes, said Leisa Winston, assistant superintendent for human resources and development.
Almost 90 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrests die, according to the American Heart Association. CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can apparently double or triple a person’s chance of survival.
“It’s an experience I’ll remember the rest of my life,” said Gonzalez, who visited Sam in the hospital, but is looking forward to having him back in class.