Wes Leonard. Photo taken March 3rd, 2011 moments before his death.
(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Jocelyn Leonard ran down the hallway in Fennville High School. A boy had stopped breathing in a math classroom, at the same school, in the same building, where she had lost her son, Wes Leonard.
Jocelyn Leonard had trained for this moment for nearly 2½ years. Refusing to let another kid die. The entire school was prepared. That's the secret to saving lives. The training, knowing how to do CPR and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator.
It was late September, and Jocelyn Leonard ran from the office to a math classroom, where - wouldn't you know it? - her son, Wes, once took a class.
The boy was on the ground. Unresponsive. Not breathing. "They were doing CPR when I got there," Jocelyn Leonard said.
A preventable tragedy
More than 2½ years ago, Leonard's son, Wes, died of sudden cardiac arrest in the Fennville gymnasium after making the winning shot in a basketball game. Wes slipped out of his teammate's arms and died on the court. His death became national news because it was so tragic and horrific, not to mention preventable. Wes could have been saved if Fennville had a working AED.
After Wes died, Rachel Moyer sent three new AEDs to Fennville. Moyer had lost her 15-year-old son, Greg, to sudden cardiac arrest in East Stroudsburg, Pa., on Dec. 2, 2000. He, too, died playing basketball.
And now, one of those AEDs that came from Pennsylvania was being used on this boy in Fennville.
Somebody hooked the AED up to the boy, whose name was not released. The boy didn't need a shock. But the machine said to continue CPR. "That's the beauty of AEDs," Jocelyn Leonard said. "They won't shock if you don't need it. It's such an easy machine to work."
Jocelyn, who is a choir teacher in Fennville, took over and started giving the boy CPR. Somebody else was working to resuscitate the boy by blowing air into his lungs through a device on his mouth.
Fennville had been practicing for this moment to avoid another tragedy ever since Wes died. The school has held at least nine practice drills involving cardiac emergencies.
After Wes died, Jocelyn became a certified CPR trainer, going through the classes, breaking down in tears,
Jocelyn Leonard and her husband, Gary Leonard, started the Wes Leonard Heart Team, a nonprofit organization that has trained more than 900 people on how to do CPR, mostly coaches and teachers. And they have given away nearly 100 AEDs all across Michigan.
Last, but not least, Jocelyn Leonard has worked extensively to lobby the state Legislature to change laws to require schools to do AED training.
Because schools need to be prepared for this moment.
"If you practice it, once a year, your save level goes up 30 or 40%," she said.
'No memory of it'
Jocelyn Leonard was pushing on the boy's chest now, trying to pull him back to the side of the living. After about 2 minutes, the boy gasped for air. "When he gasped, he choked," Jocelyn said.
He stopped breathing, and she continued to do CPR because his breathing was irregular.
When Wes Leonard collapsed in the gymnasium, nobody knew what to do. Wes was gasping for air, which is a sign of cardiac arrest. Some thought he was dehydrated or overheated. They went for ice and water. They didn't know that they should start CPR.
There was no way Jocelyn would make the same mistake again. After 30 seconds, the boy choked again. "He would come back to us, really quick," she said. "I could do four or five compressions and he would come back again."
When the emergency responders walked in the door, the boy said his first words. "Oh, my chest," he said.
When Jocelyn Leonard heard the boy speak, she began to cry.
The boy was confused. He didn't want to go to the hospital. He didn't know what happened.
"You are going to be fine," Jocelyn Leonard said. "You are doing great. I know you are feeling weird."
She was talking to him and rubbing his arm and touching his skin.
"Every kid I know who has been saved from sudden cardiac arrest, they have no memory of it," Jocelyn Leonard said.
'A walking miracle'
Jocelyn Leonard does not know for certain if she helped save the boy's life.
"Do I know if he could have restarted his breathing on his own?" she asked. "I have no idea. I'm not going to risk it. I don't want him to have brain damage. I want him to be the great kid he was before. CPR will not kill people. You may break some cartilage, but it doesn't kill them if you do it. But it can cause brain damage or death if you don't do it."
Fennville was prepared for this emergency.
But there are countless schools across Michigan that are not prepared.
Jocelyn Leonard is lobbying the state Legislature to make schools practice how to use AEDs.
Right now, schools are required to do six fire drills a year. The Michigan House of Representatives has passed a bill that would eliminate one of those fire drills and replace it with a cardiac drill.
Which makes perfect sense.
Fires in schools, thankfully, are rare. But a cardiac emergency - whether it's a student, a teacher, a parent in the stands or an athlete - are common, in comparison.
But the bill has been stuck in the Senate Education Committee since June.
"It's just sitting there," Jocelyn Leonard said, frustrated. "If we ran a cardiac drill, we would have known our AED was not properly maintained, and my son would be alive. It's that simple."
State Rep. Gail Haines, R-Waterford, who is backing the bill, said she would consider tacking the AED training onto a fire drill, if that's what it took to get it passed.
"I think this is incredibly important," said Haines, a former high school coach whose husband is a cardiologist. "Sudden cardiac arrest is a serious public health concern that disproportionately affects student athletes."
Now, for the happy ending.
The proof that training works.
The boy is back in school.
"When you see him, you just kind of feel like he's a walking miracle," Jocelyn Leonard said, filled with joy. "You look at him and your heart kind of races."