April 30, 2014 - By Meg Peters
PE teacher Dave Whitaker (L) stands with senior Alex Johnson and PE teacher Derek Delzer. Delzer and Whitaker performed CPR on Johnson after the student had a seizure in the shallow end of the school pool, saving Johnson's life. (click for larger version)
Review Staff Writer
Lake Orion High School teachers Derek Delzer and Dave Whitaker had never performed CPR on a human being until Thursday, April 24 on the pool floor.
It was on that day that the pair had to put their training into practice when a student apparently suffered a seizure in the school's pool.
Their efforts paid off, Whitaker said, when he heard a heartbeat.
"I put my ear up to his heart and truly, I think it was a miracle," PE teacher Whitaker said. "Once I heard the heartbeat and he started breathing through his nose, it was just like someone turned on the light of life."
The seemingly normal day began when Delzer was wrapping up a strength and conditioning class with a cool-down activity in the pool. Without any notice, 18-year-old Alex Johnson had a seizure in the shallow end and went under the water. The water was no deeper than three feet where it occurred.
The first to react was another student in the pool who pulled Alex to the ledge and hoisted him out as Delzer ran over.
Delzer checked for a pulse and heart rate.
He immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
"We went through quite a few cycles (of CPR). It's hard to tell, we just kept cycling through until we had success," Delzer said.
As Delzer initiated the emergency procedure, using about 30 compressions for two rescue breaths, other students sprang into action.
One student called 911. Another group set off to alert administration and another ran to find Whitaker.
When he arrived, from the sight of the students' faces, Whitaker knew something tragic had happened.
"I opened the doors and saw Delzer administering CPR, and pulled the defibulator out of the cabinet. I realized I wasn't able to use it because his leg was too close to the water and he was too wet," Whitaker said.
So he got on the floor beside Delzer and took over the compressions as Delzer continued the rescue breathing.
About four CPR cycles later the heartbeat returned.
By the time STAR EMS, Oakland County deputies and the Orion Township Fire Department arrived Alex was breathing on his own.
"CPR that was administered by school staff is credited with saving the student's life," the Oakland County police report stated.
The student was transported to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, where he remained for about 30 hours, until coming home. He is expected to make a full recovery and was to return to school this week.
"Luckily the teachers are so well trained they went right into training mode," Caryn Johnson, Alex's mother said.
"You don't think, you just do, which is totally heroic for us. They saved our son. It's unbelievable."
Both Delzer and Whitaker are CPR and First Aid certified, as required for the PE department. General teachers are not required to have the certifications. However staff are provided CPR and first aid training on an annual basis, LOHS Principal Steve Hawley said.
Hawley and other administrators arrived within minutes while the student was still not breathing.
"We had a lot of heroes that day," Hawley said. "I can't express how proud I am of the two PE teachers and the students in the class, but also the entire staff and student body."
Hawley extended his gratitude to the counseling staff, social workers and staff physiologists who talked to the students and their families who were affected from the incident.
Hawley and Delzer visited the Johnsons on April 25, when he was released from the hospital.
Alex Johnson takes seizure medications, his mother said, but for smaller seizures that only an electroencephalogram (EEG) can read. The severity of the seizure was a shock to the whole family, she said.
"Your first real save is a weird experience," Delzer said. "I know we helped save a life but at the same time it's just a humbling experience to go through."
Whitaker said the sequence that took place, from the kids doing their role, to the PE staff, to all the other supportive teachers and staff, was essential for the success.
"Our hats go off to everybody," Whitaker said. "It's amazing when put in a situation like that you have emergency plans and protocols but we just instinctively went to it."