Haeleigh Ortiz had nearly finished the day at Division Avenue High School in Levittown when the 17-year-old senior suddenly had a seizure in the gym locker room and fell to the ground, her heart about to give out.
After a close call, Ortiz survived what she and her family would later learn was a cardiac arrest.
But without the quick work of teachers and school nurses who all stepped up to play a part in saving her life that day last October, Ortiz said Monday, there would be no graduation plans, no preparation for the future.
“I probably wouldn't be here right now,“ Ortiz said Monday at a ceremony during the Nassau County Legislature’s meeting honoring the teenager and the four faculty members who came to her aid.
“I quite honestly think that I owe my entire life to them,” she said.
Nassau County Legis. John Ferretti (R- Levittown) led the ceremony, in which he called the teachers and school nurses, “unsung heroes.”
“The typical day in the life of a teacher, school nurse or psychologist does not typically involve saving a life,” Ferretti said. “These four faculty members we are honoring today took their responsibility to serving their students to the next level.”
After she collapsed, Ortiz's friends called the two school nurses, Patty Leavy and Debbi Larkin, who rushed to help with physical education teacher Brian Maloney and school psychologist Thomas Tuchiano to render CPR.
Ortiz lost her pulse. Tuchiano used a defibrillator. It worked and Ortiz's pulse returned.
Ortiz said she didn’t know she had a heart condition and has almost no recollection of the day she passed out in the locker room. Her last memory is a normal gym class.
When she was revived and later woke up at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Ortiz learned what happened and why.
She was diagnosed with ventricular dysplasia, a rare, sometimes fatal, genetic condition that can be fatal and includes an irregular heartbeat where half of her heart is slightly off.
“I've definitely found a new appreciation for a lot of things in life,” Ortiz said. “I'm just gonna try and not take anything for granted and kind of just live life.”
Her mother, Linda-Anne Carlucci, said every moment that day counted.
“The doctors told me another 30 seconds later, she wouldn't have still been here,” Carlucci said. “Without them, I wouldn't have my little girl here anymore.”
She said the school called her and first only knew she had a seizure. She sped to the hospital and saw she was on a ventilator. She was sent home more than two weeks later.
“And that's when everything hit me,” she said. “I just I broke down terribly. Everything hit me all at once and I was able to process what was going on. But if it wasn't for this team, she wouldn't be here and I couldn't thank them enough.”
Tuchiano, who had counseled Ortiz throughout her time at Division High, said he rushed to the gym after he heard an urgent code over the intercom. The nurses brought an AED defibrillator to the locker room where he applied it as they assessed her condition. He said he had done about 30 chest compressions.
“Haeleigh was on the floor and she was going through a major seizure,” Tuchiano said. “You know, you can train for it as much as you want. And unfortunately, when it actually happens all of the sudden, you’ve got to do what you've been trained to do. And luckily I was there and kept my head and was able to do it. And afterward, I was shaking like a leaf.”
The school nurses rushed to the locker room and said the AED at the school saved her life. When they first arrived, she was breathing with a pulse until her pulse stopped, Leavy said.
“She was shocked once and thankfully it brought her back and she got a pulse,” Leavy said. “I'm sure it made all the difference in her recovery. They really are lifesavers.”