Teacher's close call prompts CPR classes in Riverhead

Riverhead High School. (May 23, 2013)

Riverhead High School. (May 23, 2013) (Credit: Ian J. Stark)

A Riverhead teacher's brush with death during a March game of tug-of-war has spurred the medical professionals who resuscitated him to teach others how to save lives.

Free defibrillator and CPR training classes will be offered May 16 at Riverhead High School. The sessions are from 7 to 9 p.m. and will be taught by personnel from the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. Each class will take about 15 minutes.

Lonnie Hughes' medical emergency is behind the lifesaving push. Hughes, 57, a Phillips Avenue Elementary School teacher, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during the Riverhead School District's "Crazy Sports Night" fundraiser on March 21.

Gregory Wallace, a physics teacher at Riverhead High School and an emergency medical technician with the East Marion Fire Department, rushed out of the audience and applied a defibrillator from a nearby ambulance while another spectator performed chest compressions.

Wallace said time is crucial in cases of cardiac arrest.

"After the heart has stopped, brain death starts to begin within six to seven minutes, and then that starts to become irreversible," he said.

Students will not receive CPR certification but will learn how to operate a defibrillator and perform chest compressions.

When a defibrillator is not available, CPR can make the difference between life and death, Wallace said.

"There's a very narrow window to keep a person viable until a defibrillator arrives, so bystander CPR is essential," he said.

Lisa Corwin, an assistant chief with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps -- which is organizing the event along with Riverhead Central Faculty Association, a teacher's union, and the online media outlet RiverheadLOCAL -- said Hughes was "super, super fortunate" that some of the spectators on hand were trained in emergency care and that an ambulance crew was on the scene.

Corwin said CPR isn't as hard as it looks. "It's just a matter of knowing what to do when a situation occurs," she said.

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