Oak Lawn mom credits school’s quick action, medical technology with saving daughter’s life
By Hannah Kohut Correspondent June 3, 2012 10:16PM
Joanne O'Reilly and her 9-year-old daughter, Caitlyn pose at their home in Oak Lawn, IL on Tuesday May 15, 2012. Caitlyn went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on her school playground. School staff used defibrillator on her. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2012 8:41AM
It was a normal day at Hannum Elementary School for 9-year-old Oak Lawn resident Caitlyn O’Reilly. She was outside playing with her friends at recess on a relatively mild February morning. But something went terribly wrong.
Caitlyn collapsed. She had fallen into cardiac arrest.
If it weren’t for the quick actions of Caitlyn’s friends and the school staff, the result may have been grim.
But mostly, her mother said, if it weren’t for one very important lifesaving tool — an automated external defibrillator, or AED — Caitlyn may not be alive today. Once Caitlyn collapsed, a teacher grabbed one of the school’s defibrillators and went to work on Caitlyn while they waited for paramedics to arrive.
“Caitlyn was born with a hole in her heart and has already had two open heart surgeries — at ages 2 and 6,” 49-year-old Joanne O’Reilly said. “They (school staff) opened her shirt and saw scars from her surgeries and said to someone, ‘Get the AED,’ and someone got it and shocked her and did CPR. She never regained consciousness, and then the ambulance came.”
According to pediatric cardiologist Dr. Tarek Husayni, who treated Caitlyn in the emergency room that day at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, the AED saved her life.
“The AED walks you through step by step on what to do to the patient; how to shock them,” Husayni said. “You don’t need to be a doctor to be able to use one.”
Husayni said the AED has patches, or paddles, which are placed on a person’s chest, and can automatically recognize the heart’s rhythm, and if needed, will shock the heart back into a healthy rhythm.
“The AED identified a lethal arrhythmia, or a disturbance of the heart, that resulted in no blood flow to her body,” Husayni said. “Within minutes, she would have died.”
Husayni said that the shocks from the AED restored her heart rate back to a healthy rhythm, and her blood started flowing again.
The best part, according to Husayni, is that action was taken in such a timely matter that Caitlyn suffered no long-term damage.
“When we checked the oxygen in her blood, it indicated the length of time she did not have adequate blood flow wasn’t very long at all,” Husayni said.
The next day, Caitlyn was sitting up and breathing and talking.
Other than a little bit of short-term memory loss, Husayni said there were no neurological issues.
“The brain is the first (organ) to get damaged from no blood flow,” Husayni said.
Husayni said that only two weeks later, Caitlyn was “doing fine.”
O’Reilly said she was at work that day when the school called and told her to get to the hospital.
“I could tell from the (school) nurse that they thought she was not going to make it, but I knew she was alive,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly said Caitlyn, despite her heart condition, has lived like any other girl; participating in gymnastics, dance and theater.
“Her activities are restricted now,” O’Reilly said.
Caitlyn returned to school after a couple of weeks and is doing well.
Still, O’Reilly stressed the importance the AED had in saving her daughter’s life.
“They need to be everywhere,” O’Reilly said.