New Prairie students lead Indiana in cardiac emergency response

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 5:49 PM EST
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NEW CARLISLE, Ind. (WNDU) - Talk of responding to sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) has been prevalent since the recent collapse of NFL safety Damar Hamlin during the Bills-Bengals football game.

Yet, for several years now, New Prairie High School has been ahead of the conversation in response to a sudden tragedy of its own.

“We’ve unfortunately experienced what, what can happen, you know, when a student goes into cardiac arrest,” explained Dr. Paul White, superintendent of New Prairie United School Corporation.

In 2017, senior Mark Mayfield died after going into sudden cardiac arrest at an intramural basketball game held at the school. New Prairie High School biomedical teacher Tonya Aerts then led the charge - and state - to make NPHS a nationally-designated Heart Safe School through Project Adam.

“We were the first school in Indiana to even do this,” remarked Aerts.

To earn this distinction, Aerts said Project Adam criteria requires schools to have a robust cardiac arrest response plan that includes: having working AEDs that are accessible within two to three minutes if someone collapses; ensuring the campus has a CPR-certified safety team; in addition to conducting heart safety drills at least twice annually.

New Prairie High School is affiliated with Riley Children’s Hospital, fulfilling another requirement to have a hospital partnership.

Some NPHS students come to school early on Fridays to educate their teachers and staff on cardiac emergency response plans. They also use homeroom period to run the same drills with classmates.

“I think it’s really cool that any type of person, any age can help,” said senior Avery Mougin. “You don’t have to be a certain age to do this. You just have to know what to do in an emergency situation.”

Fellow senior Jaiden Winters can vouch for the training.

“I ran into a situation when I was playing golf that a girl, like, went down, and I was like, prepared for that situation,” described Winters. “As people, we can’t wait till something like tragic happens to make a difference.”

Dr. White is impressed by the student-led efforts to save lives if a cardiac event arises.

“They’re the ones that are actually trained and are performing different life-saving exercises and initiatives and going out and even training our other students and expanding it to other schools in the school system.” he said.

For teacher Tonya Aerts, it means possibly saving lives outside the school day - a proactive response after losing Mark Mayfield in 2017.

“Likelihood it’s going to happen at home, or at a wedding, or at church or somewhere else. But if we can create a culture of people, students, and staff who can jump in and help someone, then I mean, that was inspired by Mark. And I think that’s a great thing,” Aerts said.