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Heart attack at school points to need for defibrillator machines


By Josh Lanier
[email protected]
Kathy Zimmerman thought she was suffering from a bad case of indigestion after handing out an in-class assignment to her seventh-period social studies class. The C.C. Griffin Middle School teacher doesn’t remember much of anything after that.

“I remember handing out the assignment and then going back to my desk,” she said. “After that, the only thing I remember is waking up in an emergency room with my daughter and son-in-law standing in front of me.”

Zimmerman suffered a heart attack. Mild by doctor’s standards, it still was strong enough to stop her heart. 

She was saved by four jolts of electricity delivered through a portable defibrillator kept at the school.

C.C. Griffin school nurse Kim Helms decided to use the defibrillator after performing CPR to little avail. 

The defibrillator, Helms said, could also be used like an EKG machine because sensors in the paddles can detect if a shock is necessary or if the heart’s rhythm is unusual. 

“It took the ambulance about eight minutes to get here,” Helms said. “When I went into the room, she wasn’t breathing well and she had no pulse … When the ambulance arrived she was breathing fine and her heart was beating. She wouldn’t have survived without the defibrillator.”

Zimmerman collapsed in her classroom Dec. 10 — she returned to teaching a month later. 

Since the heart attack, C.C. Griffin School administrators are looking for donations to purchase two more defibrillators. 

“We know the benefits of having these (defibrillators) in our school,” Principal Jim Williams said. “Having others around the school would quicken our response time and make it more likely to save another person.”

All Cabarrus County junior high and high schools received one defibrillator in 2002 in a private donation from CMC-NorthEast. Each unit costs between $2,500 and $3,000, Cabarrus County Schools officials said. 

“I put in three requests … one for all schools (high schools, middle and elementary) and we were granted high school and middle,” Cabarrus County Schools Athletic Director Scott Barringer said. “I requested the defibrillators because the need was so high for athletics.”

Along with defibrillators all paid coaches and some school officials are required to take CPR classes, Barringer said. 

The defibrillator at C.C. Griffin Middle School was kept the machine locked in an athletic director’s office. After Zimmerman’s heart attack, officials moved it to an unlocked box in the school’s hallway near the gym for the easiest access. 

“It’s like a fire extinguisher,” School Resource Officer Tracey Parker said. “The door has an alarm on it to discourage anyone from messing with it, and we can reach it without having to track down someone with a key.”

Parker said time is a major factor in emergency situations and having quick access could mean life and death. C.C. Griffin is the only Cabarrus County School with such a set up, Parker said. Officials purchased the alarm box for $180 using athletic funds. 

C.C. Griffin administrators have used the defibrillator twice this year: once for Zimmerman and another about a month ago on a bus driver that passed out. The driver didn’t require the shocks because the defibrillator’s sensors ruled it out. 

“Anyone can have a heart attack, no matter who you are,” Zimmerman said. “But I hope what happened to me will get more people interested in helping schools raise money for more defibrillators. Because next time it could happen to a student.” 

•  Contact Josh Lanier at [email protected] or 704 789-9144.

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