Whelan heroes receiving accolades after saving custodian

Whelan heroes receiving accolades after saving custodian

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Staff at Whelan Elementary School are being recognized by the North Providence School Committee this week after they jumped into action to help to save the life of a maintenance worker who collapsed inside the school last week.

Principal Linda Murphy described the actions of school nurse Lucille Polisena and physical education/health teacher Gerry Rubino nothing short of heroic.

The emergency occurred after a Teacher Appreciation Week luncheon at the school. When a PTO parent entered the school gymnasium/cafeteria to offer the custodian a bite to eat, she found him collapsed on the floor with no pulse, unable to breathe.

“The parent grabbed me and we went running in,” Polisena said. She began performing CPR and asked a staff member to retrieve Rubino, who was also trained in CPR and first-aid.

Rubino said he was teaching a group of 1st-graders when he heard a resource teacher yelling in the hallway to call 911. He arrived at the gymnasium at the same time a group of faculty was rushing to bring him there.

“I ran in and saw that the custodian was on the ground and that Lucy was performing CPR/compressions,” Rubino said. “I said, what can I do?”

Polisena and Rubino worked together to perform dual CPR until someone arrived with an Automated External Defibrillator, or AED. Rubino hooked the custodian up to the AED as Polisena ventilated.

“We shocked him three times,” Polisena said. When police arrived at the scene, followed by rescue personnel, they continued to administer additional shocks until they were able to revive the victim, whose heart had suffered an electrical malfunction.

Afterwards, both Polisena and Rubino told The North Providence Breeze that they were grateful to be equipped with training that helped save a life, but humbly agreed they don’t consider their actions particularly “heroic.”

“It’s my job,” Polisena said. “What else would people expect me to do? This is what I’m here for.”

Polisena, who teaches CPR at the Community College of Rhode Island, said she’s performed CPR in the past inside a hospital, but never at school.

“It’s something I tell my students all the time. You never know when you’re going to need this skill,” she said.

She visited the victim in the hospital after the incident and is happy to report that he has since been discharged and is with family.

“It’s a great feeling, it really is. The outcome could have been very different,” she said.

“Time is critical in a situation like that,” Rubino added. “The brain can’t be without oxygen for that long.”

In this case, Rubino said everyone did their part to help.

“I was just a piece of the puzzle,” he said, crediting the others who swung into action. “The custodian is a great man and we’re just so happy he’s doing well.”

The pair will be honored by the School Committee at its meeting tonight, May 22.

North Providence offers CPR training and certification to anyone who is interested, says Supt. Joe Goho. All of the district’s physical education and health teachers, school nurse teachers, administrators and certain special education staff are required to be trained in CPR, as well as athletic coaches.

The district offers in-house training for anyone else interested, and a “considerable number” of faculty and staff members acquire certification, which Goho said is a great benefit to the safety of the town’s schools.