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South Valley Journal

Stay in school, save a life

Sep 30, 2020 02:12PM ● By Jet Burnham

Jackson Johnson, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey and Hunter Olsen look at footage from a school security camera that recorded Hunter saving Jackson’s life. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

When the Jordan Board of Education held a late-night meeting Sept. 16 to close Riverton High School for two days due to a high number of positive cases of COVID-19, it didn’t immediately address RHS students who attend classes at JATC. 

There was confusion about whether these students should attend class the next morning. Students taking the first aid and CPR concurrent enrollment class were supposed to be passing off their CPR certification that day. Because the manakins used for the test were reserved by another class the next week, it was one of the only chances they had to complete their test.

“The certification that I give the students is the health care level, the basic life support, so it has to be in person,” instructor Becky Stone said. 

Missing class could turn out to be a situation of life or death for these students. That may sound like an exaggeration, but on Sept. 2, West Jordan Middle School ninth grader Hunter Olsen saved the life of his friend, who was choking in the school cafeteria, using first aid skills he had learned in his health class.

Hunter said the hands-on instruction he received in health class last year gave him the confidence to use abdominal thrusts to save his friend, Jackson Johnson. He said knowing how it felt to perform thrusts on a manikin helped prepare him to perform the technique on a real person.

“It was pretty similar, but it's a lot scarier because you can hear them trying to breathe and struggle, and there's a bunch of tension,” Hunter said.

Jackson, who is also familiar with the technique (his dad is a police officer), was able to assist Hunter when the first few thrusts didn’t dislodge the food from his throat.

“I realized his hands were in the wrong place, so I pushed them down to the correct spot,” Jackson said.

After six thrusts, the food was dislodged, and Jackson could breathe. Full of adrenaline, Hunter pumped his fist in the air and shouted “Ms. Howa!”

“I yelled my eighth grade health teacher's name,” Hunter said. “It was just in the moment and she was the one that taught it to me. If she didn't teach me how to do it, I wouldn't have done it.”

Jackson is grateful that Hunter paid attention in class. Kathy Howa is, too.

“You hope that those children are actually listening to you,” said Howa, who has taught for 28 years. “And when something like this happens, and you find out that they did—there is no greater reward than somebody that's actually saving somebody else's life.”

Stone had been concerned that not all of her students would be in class for the lessons and practice to pass their certification. She has had one student who missed the CPR section of the class because she was in quarantine.

“I chose to do CPR in the first couple of weeks, anticipating that there would be quarantines and problems developing later on in the school year, and so I'm actually feeling pretty good that only one student needs to make it up versus half the class,” Stone said.

Howa is considering moving up the first aid skills to earlier in her curriculum, too. She plans to show current and future students the video footage of the incident (captured by school cameras) and a picture of Hunter to reinforce that learning the skills can and have saved a life in their own school. 

“To be able to use a real-life situation is priceless,” Howa said. “Unfortunately, that had to happen, but it sure had a good ending and kids will understand that this really can happen. I think it will open a lot of eyes when it becomes real in your family and your community.”

Stone always tells her classes about the student from West High School who had learned the skills and helped save the life of a stranger on the side of the road a few years ago. She said she will add Hunter’s story to her curriculum.

“It takes a lot of courage to step in there,” Stone said. “I give that student full credit for stepping in at a middle school and identifying that help was needed and doing it. Because that's half the battle—identifying an emergency and acting—especially during coronavirus and especially today, where everybody's so worried about what everybody else thinks, especially at the middle school level. It's very commendable.”

While all students are required to take health in eighth grade, students who take Stone’s class are those who are considering careers in which they can help people.

“All of the students in my classroom want to help in some way,” Stone said. “They may not become the PTs, EMTs or CNAs that they intended, but they're going to be helpers just like that little middle schooler. And that's what we need more in this country, is more helpers.”