CPR saves a student

Nevin Sagstetter, a 16-year-old from Zimmerman, is alive today because one of his coaches knew how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). His parents and a doctor agree on that.

Nathan on Education, by Joe Nathan
Nathan on Education, by Joe Nathan

Nevin’s story provides a powerful, practical lesson for schools and families: The more people who know how to do CPR, the better.

Rick Peterson, Nevin’s cross-country coach at Spectrum High School in Elk River, told me about what happened on Sept. 22.

“We had been practicing for about 30 minutes, about a mile from school. Suddenly, one of his teammates waved.

“I saw that Nevin was having significant difficulties breathing. He appeared to be having a seizure – breathing very sporadically. Then he stopped breathing. I began doing CPR. One of the other coaches called 911. The first responders arrived within six minutes of being called.”

Fortunately, Peterson had worked for Allina as a paramedic and paramedic manager for a total of 17 years. He had responded to medical emergencies before – but not with one of his students in full cardiac arrest. Peterson noted that all of Spectrum’s coaches are required to have training in CPR and use of AEDs (automatic external defibrillators).

Is this important?

“Absolutely. I worked in the field long enough to know that these kind of emergencies can happen to anyone at any time. I recommend that every educator and parent be trained in CPR,” Peterson said.

Dr. Patrick Inveen, a HealthPartners family medicine doctor with whom I discussed this case, agrees that knowing CPR is very valuable. He told me: “This coach saved the student’s life. He would not have survived if they waited for the first responders. The first few minutes are critical.”

Vanessa Spark, Spectrum’s executive director, believes what happened “is a miracle.”

“All of those people worked together. Then there was continuing prayer support from parents and students. Spectrum is a close community — you really saw people come together,” Spark said.

Tom Sagstetter, Nevin’s father, told me: “We are so grateful to the school, the paramedics, doctors, the cross-country team and his classmates. We give thanks to God.”

Tom explained that three weeks after the incident, Nevin had not yet communicated with anyone. He was in his hospital room with his mother, April. Doctors had advised them to keep music or movies going constantly. April asked if Nevin liked the movie that was playing, which was “Miracle,” about the U.S. men’s hockey team that won an Olympic gold medal.

Nevin said, “Yes!”

As Tom pointed out, “That was the first response he had given us since the event.”

Along with praising others, Tom noted: “Nevin has worked so hard. We are so impressed with his effort. He has an implantable pacemaker and defibrillator. He’s started running again.”

Nevin told me a lesson he’s learned: “Live life to the fullest while you have the chance.”

He also said he is grateful Peterson knew what he was doing that fall day.

Tom reflected: “Appreciate all the little things. We  have  so much

to be thankful for, considering where we started. Every day we learn more about what Nevin can do. Each day he does things better and faster than he did the day before. I’ve also learned to appreciate patience.”

Tom also has advice for other parents: “Hug your kids every day. Appreciate every day you have with your kids. Be thankful. Miracles do happen. Have faith.”

Peterson told me that events like this one are “very, very uncommon but they happen.”

“The more prepared you are, the better,” Peterson pointed out. “It could make the difference between life and death.”

What better reason for educators and parents to learn CPR?

Joe Nathan, is a senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@center forschoolchange.org.