With a child’s life in the balance, doctors say Ted Straub, a teacher and soccer coach in Syracuse, did everything exactly right: He responded with emergency CPR that’s credited with saving 12-year-old Jade McKenney. (Gary Walts | firstname.lastname@example.org)
In his mind, Ted Straub heard the distinct command.
He couldn’t tell you which instructor said it, or what session it came from. It was simply the imperative driven home each time — the one from all those cardiopulmonary resuscitation trainings he’d gone to as a teacher, the CPR sessions in a classroom or a gym or at the side of a pool.
It was training he hoped to never use:
Lean down, get on your knees, line up your shoulders above your hands. Put one hand above the other. Press down on the chest.
All that came back to him on a beautiful September day at Barry Park, where a girl without a pulse or heartbeat was quiet on the ground, where there was no time for any fear about what might happen next.
The command he remembered: Two breaths, then 30 compressions.
Straub, 35, is a physical education teacher at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School in Syracuse. He began work this month at that full-time position. A few years ago, he left a career in advertising to become a teacher. His old job involved promoting fast food. He grew tired of it.
“I wanted to do something that helped kids to be healthy,” he said.
Along with teaching, he coaches the girls modified soccer team from Nottingham High School, a team consisting of more than 30 girls from city middle schools.
The children practice at the park, where Straub arrived — as he does each day — on the afternoon of Sept. 10. Driving there, he planned on going through some basic drills, some fundamentals. The girls, before they started, ran a few laps to get loose.
Jade McKenney, 12, went to the coach with a request. Jade was born with a heart murmur. Her parents and doctors provided forms giving her the OK to play soccer, but they also asked if the child — when needed — could go at her own pace. As practice got started, Jade asked to run a second lap, by herself, to thoroughly warm up.
Straub said that was fine. He assembled the rest of his team in two lines, near the net.
As he started a drill, he heard players screaming.
Jade, on the other side of the field, had collapsed.
Priscilla Fudesco, 13, a team captain, noticed when Jade asked to run a lap alone, a choice Fudesco described as unusual for girls in middle school: Typically, they like company. For a reason Fudesco can’t quite explain, she was uneasy about Jade.
When her friend didn’t return to the drill, Fudesco looked around the park.
She saw Jade, motionless, on the ground. Fudesco and a teammate, Cammie Nash, ran to her. Straub heard them screaming:
“Jade! Jade! Jade!”
The child was more than 100 yards from the practice. “I sprinted over … I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life … and she was lying face down in the grass,” Straub said.
“I tapped her on the shoulder and shook her and knew right away something was seriously wrong. I could tell by looking at her there was nothing there. I had to act fast. People say to me: ‘You must have been freaked out,’ and they say they couldn’t have done the same thing.
“But I tell you: You sit through all these trainings, and when it happens, it clicks in.”
Dr. Craig Byrum, a pediatric cardiologist who treats Jade in Syracuse, describes the rescue as “a miracle.” Jade was in full cardiac arrest, he said. Coming back from that condition demands, as he puts it, having “four or five stars in place.”
The first is the presence of someone with CPR training, like Straub, “who did the thing that all of us are supposed to know how to do.”
The second and third stars are simple — but don’t always line up:
You need a mobile phone, and someone to make a perfect call.
Straub had a phone. He rolled Jade over, then handed it to Fudesco, his young captain. He told her to call 911.
“I was afraid,” Fudesco said, “but I knew I had to stay calm to make sure Jade was OK.”
She made the call and answered the dispatcher’s questions, while Straub followed the command locked into his memory:
Two breaths, 30 compressions.
Straub’s challenge, Byrum later explained, didn’t involve trying to get Jade’s heart beating again. His job was to serve as what Byrum calls a bridge, to provide enough exterior force to send blood coursing through her body — especially to her brain — until emergency help arrived.
Through his hands, for those few minutes, Straub kept the girl alive.
The brief space of time, Straub said, seemed extended, never-ending. He continued to perform CPR as Joe Horan, coach of the modified boys team, came to his side. Don Paradise and Michele Gulla — nurses who happened to be driving past — saw him with Jade, stopped their car and did all they could to help.
Straub kept going as he heard the sound of approaching sirens, as a ‘mini’ truck from nearby fire Engine Co. 10 pulled up, as firefighter Steve Segur and Lt. Paul Schaap hurried toward the girl.
Paradise, a nurse, moved in and took over CPR as Straub stepped back to give the firefighters room. Segur made sure Jade had a clear airway, while Schaap applied stickers to her chest that can carry a charge from a defibrillator.
Again, Byrum said, the stars had to line up perfectly: All those people — each one — played critical roles. By good luck, Schaap and Segur were stationed on East Genesee Street, a short drive away. According to their records, the alarm went off at 3:45 p.m. and they were at the park in three minutes.
As for the defibrillator, Byrum explained that a heart stops beating and often quivers during cardiac arrest — a condition known as ventricular fibrillation. The machine does a reading and then answers this question:
Does the wounded heart have an electrical rhythm that can be restarted by a jolt?
The answer isn’t always yes. In Jade’s case, it was.
Schaap administered a shock.
When it was finished, he said, “she gave a little groan.” Segur saw Jade try to take a breath. He used a bag valve mask to help the girl inhale.
A Rural/Metro ambulance took Jade to the hospital, where she was soon in the company of her parents, David and Diane Wright McKenney, and her sister Jett — all of whom shifted from fear into almost bottomless gratitude. Jade would awaken and start to regain her strength. The next day, she sent her coach a message for the girls:
“Tell the team I’m sorry I wasn’t feeling well yesterday at practice.”
The doctors told Jade’s family a valve had failed her heart, and they expect to replace it — sometime this fall — at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Jade’s mother said the girl, understandably, isn’t thrilled about the surgery.
Yet in the definition of highest meaning, she is fine. Those who love her can’t stop thinking, as Byrum said, of how the stars aligned.
Straub had scant time, after the ambulance left, to collect himself. Horan helped him to get his bearings, reassure his team and calmly finish practice. Everyone — the doctors and firefighters and staff at the hospital — say that when it mattered, Straub did things exactly right.
Many people have stopped by McKinley-Brighton to thank him, including Superintendent Sharon Contreras, who described Straub and his fellow teachers as “unsung heroes.”
Straub insists he’s not.
He’s a coach, he said, and a child was in trouble, and it came down to all that training, drilled into his head.
Still, no training could prepare him for how it felt when he stopped at the hospital, and Jade greeted him while she was resting in a chair.
This time, when he reached toward her, she reached out and hugged him back.