Teacher’s Action Saves His Student

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By Charlie Warner, Special to the Independent

Quick action by Laguna Beach High School teacher Jose Luis Gonzalez is credited with saving the life of a stricken student last week.
Quick action by Laguna Beach High School teacher Jose Luis Gonzalez is credited with saving the life of a stricken student last week.

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.


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  1. Mr. Gonzalez saved the life of a child and that’s a wonderful badge of honor to carry for the rest of one’s life… The system worked that day, everyone stepped up; from the fire dept, the police, school officials even Sam’s fellow students all hand a hand in saving his life that day. Well done Laguna!

  2. Sr. Gonzalez, along with Garvey, Ortiz and Dixon (up the hill), were some of the most passionate group of teachers I had the pleasure of studying under. I credit them with providing me with the knowledge I needed to succeed, and the compassion with which they did so. I (along with many others I’m sure) would not be even close to where I am today without their persistence and drive to push each student to be their very best self.

  3. Mr. Gonzalez, Tim Crilly, the students and staff of Laguna Beach High School, as well as the first responders, all did an incredible job. Their quick thinking, bravery and ability to stay calm under pressure literally gave me my son back. To everyone involved, I THANK YOU with my whole heart. You’re the reason my son’s heart is beating and my heart isn’t broken. Love to you all.


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