Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

In a heartbeat, Mt. Jordan staff sprung to action to save boy’s life

Apr 22, 2021 09:55AM ● By Julie Slama

Mt. Jordan Middle School staff reacted quickly when sixth-grader Stephen Allen collapsed and were recently acknowledged by the Canyons Board of Education and thanked by his mother, Melissa Allred, on the left. (Photo courtesy of Canyons School District)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

There are no words that quite express the gratitude a sixth-grader’s mother must feel after Mt. Jordan Middle School faculty and staff stepped in to save his life after he collapsed. She had received a phone call from the school office alerting her of her son’s collapse.

But Melissa Allred tried, amongst tears, at the March 2 Canyons Board of Education meeting.

“As you can imagine getting a phone call like that is quite unnerving,” she said, adding that this was her son’s fifth incident with his heart condition. “As I’ve talked to the doctors, they are amazed at how fast these faculty were able to assist him.”

Her son, Stephen Allen, has CPVT—a rare, life-threatening heart disorder that is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm. As his heart rate increases in response to physical activity or strong emotions, it can trigger an abnormally fast heartbeat and fainting can be a common first sign.

“One in every 10,000 kids have this condition, 25% don’t even live to be diagnosed, because they go into cardiac arrest and die before being treated, so for him to have five incidences and still be standing here is truly a miracle,” Allred said. “I’m so very grateful for the people who helped him that day, who jumped into action, who didn’t hesitate to do what they needed to do.” 

The “lifesavers” were at the board meeting, being thanked with a standing ovation and letters of recognition from the Canyons board members and Supt. Rick Robins for jumping into action when a student needed them the most.

Those recognized for their quick response were physical education and health teacher Ashley Anjewierden, Principal Matt Watts, hall monitor Kami Ottman, head secretary Kim Mitchell, attendance secretary Amy Beardon, office aide Brenda Castillo and school nurse Angela Despain.

It happened Feb. 11 during passing time when Stephen was walking to his next class, PE. Suddenly, he collapsed in the main hallway of the school. Fortunately, his mother had made the staff aware of his life-threatening heart disorder and they had a plan.

Luckily, Ottoman was behind him and radioed for help. She stayed with him even though he was nonresponsive. Watts jumped into action, making his way to the student to provide aid. Mitchell called 911 while Beardon identified the student and pulled his healthcare plan. Castillo called his mother, who was able to get to the school before he was taken away with the paramedics. 

Anjewierden, his PE teacher, who learned from her coworker that a student needed aid, realized Stephen hadn’t made it to class and bolted down the hallway. Anjewierden had been an EMT for a few years prior to teaching and relied upon her training. Watts stayed by her side, which provided “calming support,” she recalled.

“I knew immediately he would need an AED and Kami got it,” she said about the automated external defibrillator, a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. “I applied the first shock within two-and-one-half minutes of Stephen going down. I began (chest) compressions when I recognized he didn’t have a pulse.”  

After 90 compressions, he was grasping for breath on his own, but the AED, which gives instructions on application, said to apply a second shock. At that time, Despain arrived and nodded to proceed, backing up Anjewierden’s instincts and what was heard from the AED.

“That second shock got his heart back into rhythm and then, paramedics arrived,” she said about the entire process that lasted less than seven minutes. “It was all instinct. It went by so fast.”

Anjewierden was thankful she had her EMT training—some of the same training in first aid and CPR she provides students in her health classes. 

“I’ve told my students that it can happen to anyone at any time, and it did. I’ve never had to use it at this level before, but by having the knowledge, it has come in handy as a coach, working in youth activities, sports and school. The most extreme I’ve had before this was sprains and broken legs,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve done compressions. I’ve only practiced before on a mannequin, but I just knew when to do it and when to stop. I knew it needed to be perfect to save his life.”

After paramedics took Stephen, Anjewierden returned to the gym, where a student teacher had taken over her class, allowing for her to decompress and gather her thoughts. Counselors were available for Anjewierden, other staff and faculty and students. Mt. Jordan staff and faculty as well as families were informed about what happened through an email.

“I definitely felt like I was in the right place at the right time, and I was supposed to be here to help him,” she said. “I had a great team of individuals to help me. It is incredible act of teamwork and I couldn’t do it without any of these wonderful people.”

As a token of the Board’s gratitude, a signed AED device was given to Anjewierden, who coaches Hillcrest High softball and left practice to see Stephen for the first time since his collapse shortly before the board meeting.

While all Canyons schools have AEDs and staff are provided annual training, Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney said that only 17% of schools and government offices have AEDs. He also said that survival rate is fewer than 10% of the about 360,000 people who have Emergency Medical Services-assessed cardiac arrests outside of a hospital setting.

Haney also said that “life changes in a heartbeat” as it truly did for this sixth-grader and for those who brought him back.