A True Save: Claire Crawford

Published by The Walton Tribune, Written by Stephen Milligan

Claire Crawford, a senior at Loganville Christian Academy, was all set up for the girls volleyball game against Augusta Preparatory Day School in the LCA gym on the afternoon of Oct. 13. A few points had been traded between the two squads when Crawford’s serve came up. Crawford struck the ball and then moved in to set up the next shot when, unexpectedly, she collapsed in the middle of the court.

What happened next, all agree, most likely saved the young girl’s life.

Three adults immediately swept onto the court to check on Claire, including athletic trainer Mallory McQuaig, who works with the LCA team on loan from DeKalb Medical Center. McQuaig, assisted by LCA parent Telesa Kendall, checked the unconscious girl’s vitals and found no sign of a pulse, so they began to trade off giving Claire CPR while calling 911. The paramedics arrived in the next nine minutes but Claire’s heart had ceased to beat — she would later be diagnosed with ventricular fibrillation, a fatal heart rhythm in which the heart begins to quiver in place rather than contract as intended. This arrhythmia could possibly kill Claire if not treated quickly so Julie Sirmans, the lower school academic dean at LCA, ran into the foyer of the gym and grabbed one of the school's wall-mounted automated external defibrillators.

Sirmans said the situation was tense. “We responded within seconds and she had no heartbeat,” Sirmans said. “I set up the AED and a shock was given.” The device did the trick. “Within a couple of minutes, Claire began to show signs of life again,” Sirmans said. “By the time the paramedics arrived, she was sitting up and talking.”

Claire was transported to Children’s at Scottish Rite from the gym and later transferred to Egleston Hospital for Children before moving to Emory Healthcare for further treatment of her heart condition. Mark Davis, principal of the upper school at LCA, gave all the credit to the three women who swept in following Claire’s collapse, as well as the school’s placement of the AED. “There’s no question it saved her life,” Davis said.

LCA has four AED devices mounted on the walls in different parts of the school, as well as two travel devices taken to athletic contests by teams on away games. School nurse Stephanie Bruno said the devices — which the school's officials are trained to use through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Project S.A.V.E. — are easy to use and are designed to work only when needed. “It will not shock if it does not detect any arrhythmia,” Bruno said. Bruno works with teachers, administrators and staff at the school, training them on the AED devices and running drills to ensure they know how to use them. Sirmans said that training made all the difference.

"Stephanie trained us well," Sirmans said. "I wouldn't have known what to do otherwise." Instead, a young girl lived when she might have died and Bruno said others need to be trained on what to do in an emergency, at schools and elsewhere, and hopes other places will be sure to have AED devices on hand. “People need to be aware of this,” Bruno said.