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School staff, first responders recognized for aiding cardiac arrest victim

Pam Bertrand with Sean Van SleetSeveral Cohoes community members were recognized at Wednesday’s board meeting for providing life-saving first aid to a school employee who went into cardiac arrest.

On May 22 at about 4 p.m., Sean Van Sleet, a cleaner at Harmony Hill School, was making his usual rounds. He exited a pre-K classroom on the second floor and collapsed in the hallway.

“The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital,” Van Sleet said.

He would later learn that the quick thinking and actions of parents, teachers, after-school workers and the school principal may have saved his life. A parent picking up her child from the TSL after-school program saw Van Sleet on the ground and alerted school employees.

“We grabbed the AED (automated external defibrillator) and ran upstairs,” Harmony Hill Principal Mark Perry said.

Special education teacher Pam Bertrand opened the AED kit, applied the pads to Van Sleet and followed the automated instructions until EMS responders arrived.

“Those bystanders may have been the deciding factor in whether he lived or died,” said Cohoes firefighter/EMS Coordinator Russ Coonradt. “Our response times are good. We can be there in three to five minutes. But that’s a long time for someone in cardiac arrest.”

Coonradt added that it was a perfect example of what the American Heart Association (AHA) calls the ‘chain of survival.’

“It went about as smoothly as it could because we were prepared,” Perry said. “They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t flinch. They just sprang into action.”

Van Sleet was discharged from the hospital about a week later. He said he’s getting stronger every day and is anxious to get back to work.

“I’m just glad they knew what to do,” he said. “It was a group effort. I had the easy part. Everyone else had the stress.”

The following individuals were presented with a plaque from the Cohoes Fire Department/EMS and a certificate from the AHA for their roles in the rescue:

Sammy Jo Shanahan, TSL after-care employee
Mark Perry, principal
Pam Bertrand, teacher
Catherine Lamica, teacher
Latesha Sheldon, parent
Remy Boyea, Albany County dispatcher
Lt. Mark Dufresne, Cohoes F. D.
Peter Annely, Cohoes F. D.
Ryan Macpherson, Cohoes F. D.

Heidi Cordi, a physician from Albany Med, wrapped up the ceremony by donating an AHA “CPR in Schools Training Kit” to the district. The kit contains 10 mannequins and AED simulators, kneel mats, replacement airways, and other CPR training materials.

More photos can be seen on our public Facebook post.

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