Maryam Basharat is perhaps too young to fully appreciate just what a living, breathing, walking, talking miracle she is.
But for a small group of adults gathered Friday at Balmoral School to honour the principal and three teachers who brought the 11-year-old student back to life, tears of gratitude fill their eyes at the smiling miracle in our midst.
On Sept. 6 — just three days after classes started at the stately 1936 sandstone school on 16th Avenue and 2nd St. N.W. — that bright light of a Grade 6 girl collapsed during afternoon gym class outside while running. Her heart had stopped.
The series of events that happened next on that terrifying day is why principal Liana Appelt, Bryan Allen, Thomas Guenther and Jillian Wright were presented with framed EMS Citizen Recognition Awards during a moving ceremony in Wright’s social studies classroom.
Allen, social studies and physical education teacher, says he’ll never forget that day. “It’s beautiful outside. We were three or four minutes into the run and a student ran up to grab me, saying, ‘Maryam is lying in the grass over there’. I actually thought, it’s the last class of the day, it’s gorgeous out, maybe she’s just taking a break.”
Instead, she was fighting for her life.
“She was gasping for air,” recalls the 35-year-old. “I had a radio and my cellphone. The radio was non-responsive so I called Thomas, my teaching partner in the school. I told him to get help in the school and the AED (automated external defibrillator), and then I called 911.
“Then Thomas, Jillian and Liana, came running over and Jill started CPR. Thomas and Liana put the AED on her, they zapped her and then shortly after that EMS arrived.”
Guenther, 36, a physical education teacher, recalls how frightened he was when he came upon the scene.
“She wasn’t breathing and she didn’t have a pulse,” he says.
“She looked like she was not alive. It was very scary. When the AED shocked her, you could see in her eyes that she came back to life for a second and you could tell that something worked, you could see that she was alive again. I’ll never forget that.”
Jillian, 29, a grades 8 and 9 social studies teacher, continued chest compressions and rescue breathing on Maryam.
Four minutes after 911 was called, the first EMS officer, Paul Emmerson, arrived on the scene.
“She was no longer in cardiac arrest, her heartbeat was restored and her body was now receiving full oxygen throughout,” Stuart Brideaux, public education officer with EMS in Calgary, told the small gathering.
“In just minutes from the time of Maryam’s collapse, these four teachers initiated CPR, made the 911 call, performed rescue breathing and deployed the AED all before the arrival of EMS.
“They completed the first three of the five links in the chain of survival — all of the links that lay-rescuers can even perform.”
Maryam was smiling her big dimpled smile during the telling of her ordeal, but her grateful parents, Momina and Basharat Ali, were wiping away tears.
“This is very moving and meaningful for us,” said Ali, a 42-year-old financial services manager.
“These teachers are my heroes. The EMS are our heroes. The doctors are our heroes. But these teachers. Without them, our daughter would be dead and we would be living a terrible tragedy. Instead, now, we have joy and gratitude. I don’t have words that can express what’s in my heart. They saved our daughter’s life.”
Momina, who was standing back with the family’s youngest daughter, Sarah, 5, held one hand to her chest while the other wiped away tears.
“The teachers are angels to us,” Momina said. “I am amazed by what happened. If this had happened to Maryam two hours later at home, then we would not have Maryam. She was in the right place at the right time with people who have trained for this and they did everything right and I will forever be grateful to them.”
Momina is right. Every one of the 26 teachers at the school of 609 students is trained in first aid, CPR and in how to use an AED. In August, as the teachers prepared for the new school year, Appelt, who was the CBE’s youngest principal at the age of 36 in 2014, when she was named one of Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40, was holding a day of practice drills with the staff.
“Ensuring that everyone knows our emergency protocol is very important,” said Appelt. “We are all here for our students and I’m just so delighted that Maryam is alive and well.”
CBE Trustee Lisa Davis says listening to the events that transpired that day is sobering and moving.
“What you realize listening to EMS is that absolutely everything that needed to happen, happened,” said Davis. “That is a real testament to the principal at this school and the staff who responded.”
Davis said she’s been told that of the people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a medical facility, only four out of 5,000 survive. “So you cannot overstate the miracle that happened that day.”
As for that miracle, she’s happy to be alive.
“I’m very thankful that I’m still in this world,” said the bright student who loves math, band and art.
“I’m so glad that my teachers knew what to do and I’m glad they got these awards because they deserve it,” added Maryam.
So what does she want to do when she grows up?
“I want to save lives. I want to be a doctor.”
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia opinion columnist.
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