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Herricks Middle School staff saves student’s life after heart attack

Sanketh Kumar, who was running in gym glass at Herricks Middle School last month when he inexplicably had a heart attack, talks about his experience almost a month after the incident on Oct. 11, 2016, at his home in Williston Park. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

Most middle-school students don’t invite their teachers to their birthday party, but Sanketh Kumar will be surrounded by seven of his school’s faculty members on Friday.

That’s because Sanketh’s 13th birthday will be special. About three weeks ago, the Herricks Middle School eighth-grader suffered a heart attack during gym class, and his teachers quickly banded together to restart his heart on the school’s track. As both an act of gratitude and a birthday celebration, Sanketh and his parents, Gopal and Achala, will be taking the faculty and their families to dinner.

“I felt grateful for what they did,” Sanketh said Tuesday at his Williston Park home.

Sanketh has been back at school for a little more than a week and said he feels “like I’m just normal.”

He doesn’t remember much from his fourth-period gym class Sept. 14, only the confusion of waking up in the hospital the next day.

But for his parents, it was a harrowing ordeal. Gopal Kumar, 44, was in a business meeting in Freeport when his cellphone rang. He received a voicemail message from Herricks Middle School vice principal Tom Aird that said “our son collapsed at school and we’re trying to restore his heart,” according to Kumar.

Students had been asked to do a two-minute jog that morning in class, but Sanketh didn’t even make it around the track before he fell to the ground. Two students, noticing Kumar’s hands were spasming, alerted physical education teachers Artie Friess and Joe Welsh, who called 911.

Nurse Tracey Baumann was the first to reach Sanketh and found he wasn’t breathing and had a weak pulse. His heart appeared to have stopped.

“She told me she said something she never thought she’d have to say, ‘Get the AED [automated external defibrillator]’ ” said Principal Joan Keegan, who was part of the group that responded.

Another nurse, Dana Lieberman, gave Sanketh CPR until Keegan and others brought out one of the school defibrillators. All seven teachers involved were trained to administer CPR and a defibrillator, but none had to use those skills at school until Lieberman used the AED to revive Sanketh.

“It took one shock, we saw his body elevate and then you could hear this heart beating. It was a great sight,” Lieberman said.

An ambulance took Sanketh to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, where his parents met him.

“I wanted to see my son and hear him tell me ‘Dad,’ ” Kumar said. “A lot of things were going through my mind.”

Sanketh was transferred that evening to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital but didn’t wake up until the following day, his father said. Doctors told him that Lieberman giving CPR and using the AED are likely what saved Sanketh’s life.

Sanketh said he spent 10 days in the hospital and then a few days recovering at home. He feels fine now, though he’s not sure he likes all the attention.

Doctors haven’t yet figured out what caused the heart attack, but his father said heart problems run in their family and just in case something happens again, doctors put a device in Sanketh’s heart to shock it back into rhythm if needed.

In six weeks, Sanketh said he’ll be able to play his favorite sport again, baseball, and on Saturday, he’ll get to hang out with his friends as usual.

“We believe God sent Dana, the nurse, at that time. It was almost from the dead that he came back alive,” Kumar said. “We’re so grateful.”


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