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St. Ignatius custodian saved by teamwork of staff

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

The following story appeared in the June 25 Idaho Catholic Register.

Jeff McDonnell with 300 cards from students of St. Ignatius Catholic School in Meridian, where he is a custodian. One child wrote, “Mr. McDonnell, I prayed for you every night.” (Courtesy photo/ Jeff McDonnell)

By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer

Jeff McDonnell’s decision to play his guitar for Meredith Dressler’s second grade class at St. Ignatius School in Meridian was a decision that would save his life.

McDonnell, a custodian for the school who is also a musician, finished sharing his music with the students and then collapsed just as he was leaving the class. If he had been at home, he likely would have died.

“He was completely unconscious and his color started changing, as if he wasn’t getting oxygen,” Dressler said. She knew from her training that all faculty and staff receive, to tilt his head to check his airway and check his pulse, which she could not detect. Dressler yelled for someone to call 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Amy Caldwell, who is a teacher’s aide to Dressler, called 911 and raced to the school nurse’s office. Sheri Placido, a certified nursing assistant with Saint Alphonsus Health System, heard Caldwell running and knew something was wrong. As soon as Caldwell yelled that they needed the AED (Automated External Defibrillator), Placido grabbed the device, which set off an alarm alerting administrators that there was a life-threatening emergency.

When Placido arrived at the classroom, Dressler was still giving McDonnell CPR. Placido attached the AED to McDonnell to shock his heart into beating again. While waiting for the ambulance, the AED, which automatically senses when the heart needs needs to be restarted with an electric shock.

Jeff McDonnell returned to St. Ignatius School to thank his heroes. He is pictured with Sheri Placido, the school nurse who used an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) to restart his heart.

Paramedics arrived in less than 10 minutes and placed McDonnell on a stretcher. By this time, he had regained consciousness.

After surgery, a lengthy hospital stay and heart rehabilitation therapy, McDonnell is doing well. His father died from a heart attack when McDonnell was in the fourth grade. Other family members also died from heart attacks.

“Normally I would have been at home during that time,” McDonnell said. “If I had been at home alone, it would have been disaster.” McDonnell, his wife and five children are grateful that he was in the right place, at the right time.

McDonnell, Placido, Caldwell and Dressler, all agree that the training, AED and teamwork made all the difference in saving his life.

All staff members at St. Ignatius have CPR and emergency First Aid training each August before school starts. A part of their training is using the Automated External Defibrillator. According to the American Heart Association, immediate CPR and use of an AED during a heart attack doubles the chance of survival for a heart patient.

Left, Merrideth Dressler, the teacher who performed CPR on McDonnell. Right, Amy Caldwell, who called 911 and ran to get Placido and the AED. (Courtesy photos)

Placido has worked as a school nurse for 22 years, but this was a first for her. “Everyone hopes they’ll never need to use the AED,” she said. Being prepared, however, saved McDonnell’s life. Caldwell.

St. Ignatius students are also prepared for how to act in an emergency. The students in the classroom stayed calm, and listened to and followed all instructions. They were removed from the classroom within minutes, and a school counselor spoke with the students to help them process the emergency.

The staff at St. Ignatius also expressed a profound gratefulness for life. “Life is fragile. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so we should appreciate each other and be grateful for each day,” Dressler said.

Prayer also helped. Placido, who is a parishioner of Risen Christ parish in Boise, prayed as she rushed to Mc-Donnell’s side. Dressler and Caldwell, parishioners of Holy Apostles in Meridian, also mentioned the impact of prayer. “It was God’s plan and God’s work that it all worked out,” said

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