Training prepares Catholic-school teachers, staff to save lives - Catholic Courier
A woman sits at a table with students.

Crystal Criticos leads a lesson with students at Greece’s St. Lawrence School June 16. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Training prepares Catholic-school teachers, staff to save lives

GREECE — Gio D’Angelo vividly remembers the moment he started choking in his fourth-grade classroom at St. Lawrence School last March.

His teacher, Crystal Criticos, was walking between the desks reading a book aloud while he and his classmates nibbled on snacks and followed along quietly in their own books.

As he was eating, a grape slid down his throat and firmly lodged itself there.

“It was such a quick thing. At first, I thought it was just like an ice cube stuck in my throat. I tried to drink water to try to get it down. I couldn’t breathe,” Gio recalled.

Thinking quickly, Gio stood up and walked over to Criticos with his hands crossed over his neck. Recognizing that her student was choking, Criticos put her book down immediately and thumped Gio’s back. Nothing happened, so Criticos turned Gio around and started to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

“It took about four or five thrusts, and then the grape flopped out of his mouth,” Criticos said.

Individuals trained in CPR, Heimlich maneuver and AED are prepared to help others

Gio’s mother, Jaclyn D’Angelo, said she is thankful her son knew how to communicate what he needed and grateful that his teacher knew what to do.

“I think God and an angel were watching over all of them,” she said.

Criticos had learned the Heimlich maneuver in a babysitting course she took when she was 16, and she renews her training every year. She also is trained in CPR and in the use of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs. Criticos said she always has viewed such training as a priority, partly because she comes from a family of first responders.

“Training is important because you never know when you’ll need it or who you’ll need it for,” she explained. “It may not be somebody in your home. It may not be somebody in your class.”

Each fall, Criticos invites a registered nurse to visit her classroom and provide her students with first-aid training as well as training in hands-only CPR, which does not include mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“I think it’s important for everyone to learn,” Criticos said.

Buffalo Bills player’s collapse and revival sparked renewed interest in CPR training

The importance of CPR training has received renewed emphasis especially since Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field Jan. 2, 2023, during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin’s heart stopped on the field, but medical personnel and Bills athletic training staff used CPR and an AED to revive him.

The incident highlighted the need for CPR training, but the Catholic schools and parishes in the Diocese of Rochester already had been scheduling training sessions for their staff to brush up their skills, according to James Tauzel, who served as diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools from 2019 until July.

“It’s just really nice to see the number of people who’ve had that training expand. If there’s an emergency, we’re better equipped to handle it,” he said. “We all know teachers are important people, but we don’t think about them being lifesavers sometimes. But they really are. When we give them the tools to do it, they can avoid a tragedy.”

Half of the faculty and staff of St. Ambrose Academy participated in a CPR training session at the Laurelton Fire Department in Irondequoit last spring, according to Andrea Milgate, interim principal at the Rochester school. The conference-day training was free, she said, but the Knights of Columbus paid for the certification cards that participating faculty and staff members received. The school is located on the grounds of Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, which is planning an AED-training session this fall because several new staff members are now working in the parish and school buildings, Milgate added.

“Anyone can have a medical emergency and need that kind of assistance, and just having an awareness of the procedures and what exactly to do is really important,” she said. “It’s valuable training outside of the school in addition to just having it as a teacher.”

Training in CPR, other measures also is valuable for parents, students, others

Training in lifesaving techniques is valuable for everyone, agreed D’Angelo, who went online to watch instructional videos about the Heimlich maneuver after her son’s choking incident last spring.

“All parents and even kids should know the signs to give and what to do in the situation. I think even when the kids have health class in school they could go over those maneuvers and even practice,” she said.

D’Angelo and her family were so grateful to Criticos for her quick and efficient reaction that they nominated her for a Golden Apple Award from WROC-TV Channel 8 in Rochester. The television station’s staffers presented the award to Criticos in May.

While it is nice to be recognized and appreciated, Criticos said the award really belongs to the whole class. Everyone remained calm while she helped Gio and were helpful afterward, she said.

“We all earned it that day,” Criticos said.

Tags: Catholic Schools, Monroe County West
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