Teachers welcome back sixth-grader whose life they helped save

Melrose-Mindoro holds welcome-back assembly for 11-year-old girl after heart attack

When sixth-grader Erin Smith collapsed in gym class on March 31 this year, it was hard to believe what was going on was real.

“People were quite frantic,” said Kaitlyn Opland, eighth-grader at Melrose Mindoro Junior High. “Yeah, it was scary.”

Eleven-year-old Erin suffered from a heart attack, and emergency responders say if it hadn’t been for the staff’s quick reaction, this story could have had a very different ending.

“The first responders and the paramedics have all said, had we not followed what we were taught to do, there is a very good chance she wouldn’t be here today,” Windsor said.

A heart attack for someone so young can’t help but come as a surprise.

“That was the hardest part of the whole thing was she’s 11 years old,” said Sandy Paisley, K-5 art teacher at Melrose Mindoro.

“When I knew she didn’t have pulse, that’s when I knew I was in a situation that was surreal and unthinkable,” said Erin’s teacher for the past three years, Jenni Windsor.

Windsor and Paisley were both in the right place at the right time to help administer CPR and use the automated external defibrillator.

Paisely teaches CPR, but had never had to use it on a real person until that day.

“I couldn’t believe I had to do CPR on an 11-year-old girl,” Paisley said. She said she just so happened to be in the building, because of a recent shift. She was planning to teach another CPR class to teachers, like one Windsor participated in three years ago.

Windsor arrived to the gym first, and knew she needed to find Paisley for help. Paisley began CPR, and told Windsor to get the defibrillator.

“I got the AED and placed it on Erin, and I think that’s when I knew it was real,” Windsor said.

They had to shock her three times waiting for emergency responders.

“We could tell her color was better and she was coming back,” Paisley said.

Many others, including staff members and emergency responders, were recognized at the assembly for their help, as well.

Erin spent the next two weeks in a Madison hospital recovering from the heart attack, likely caused by a virus.

And when she returned back to school’s gym to a welcoming assembly, she was met with another surprise — except this time, a happy one.

‘We went out and raised money for iPad,” Opland said. ” We spent a lot of time and planning on the posters and setting up … to make her feel happy and welcome back to the school.”

And the teachers couldn’t be any happier to see that she’s OK.

“She is such a fighter and that she did a lot of this all by herself,” Paisley said. “I just helped get her to the hospital so she could make it the rest of the way, so I’m very happy for her.”

“She’s such a joy to teach,” Windsor said. “If there’s a student you would want to have in your class, she would be Erin.”

Erin already has her homework for the summer, and will be continuing her speech and physical therapy three times a week, according to Windsor.

Doctors continue to monitor her heart, and may have to put in a pacemaker.