Sachem North student saves coach's life

Jessica Campo, a senior at Sachem High School Jessica Campo, a senior at Sachem High School North in Lake Ronkonkoma, by the school's pool where she helped revive her coach who had collapsed while she was on lifeguard duty. (May 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

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Lifeguard Jessica Campo was terrified when she saw her longtime swim coach collapse poolside late last year at Sachem High School North.

Witnesses feared Al Scott wouldn't survive -- he'd passed out because of a heart condition and wasn't breathing.

He quickly started turning blue.

Though stunned, Campo put her fear aside and took command. She teamed up with a visiting parent to administer three rounds of CPR to her mentor of six years. It was the first time she had performed the emergency procedure.

"I felt like I owed that to him after all of those years of coaching," said Campo, 18. "He's a great guy. Everybody loves him. He has helped me so much with my swimming career."

Campo started swimming in middle school. She has been on the varsity swim team throughout high school. But on the day she came to her coach's aid, she was acting as a lifeguard, not a member of his team.

So poised was the graduating senior during the crisis, which Scott survived and which happened the day before Thanksgiving, that staff at the Lake Ronkonkoma school mistook her for someone much older; some were shocked to learn she's a high school student.

"I remember thinking, 'This girl is at the top of her game,' " guidance counselor Edward Manly said. "She was mature, articulate. I was so impressed by the way she was keeping everybody calm. She was more together than I was."

As for Scott, he doesn't remember passing out. It was only after he came to days later that he learned of Campo's heroism.

"She is the greatest -- very low-key," Scott said of Campo. "She saved my life, and it was like she didn't do anything. I am extremely proud of her."

Campo said she always feared she would freeze up in a crisis and forget her training. And while she looked unaffected at the time, she was shaken up and cried to her mother when she returned home to Lake Ronkonkoma that night.

She teared up again -- this time out of joy -- when she saw a healthy Scott for the first time after his hospitalization. The two shared a warm hug near the pool.

For her efforts, she was given the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award for the Professional Responder, one of the organization's highest awards.

Campo, who is headed to Oswego in the fall to major in psychology, said the incident has built her confidence.

"I wasn't holding back," she said. "I did what I had to do. If I can get through this, I can get through whatever else is thrown at me."

She said she is excited about moving on to the next phase of her life, proving she can live on her own.

"I can't wait," the A student said. "I'm looking forward to making new friends . . . and having all of that responsibility. And I hope I find my passion in psychology when I'm there."

Campo took psychology as a junior and "fell in love with it." She eventually wants to earn a doctorate so she can become a psychologist.

"I really like to find out how people work," she said, noting she is particularly interested in how the mentally ill are treated in impoverished nations.

A school project revealed abuse and neglect in many countries -- a stark contrast, Campo said, to services offered in the United States -- and she would like to help, perhaps focusing on Latin America, where her father was born.

"I know they are not being treated the way they should be," she said.

If saving the day is in order, she's got experience.

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