(New Carlisle, IN) - Five years ago Sunday, New Prairie High School student Mark Mayfield collapsed in a school hallway and died from an undiagnosed heart condition. Since then, the New Prairie school community has increased its efforts to build a lifesaving culture.
Leading the charge is biomedical teacher Tonya Aerts. She says the training to perform CPR is not hard—it only takes a couple of hours—and can really empower young people to look out for others. “By creating this heart-safe culture, it’s really empowering to kids,” said Aerts. “They’re being presented with situations where they’re able to step up and do something when others aren’t, or can’t, or are scared to.” Aerts teaches first aid and emergency response in her health classes and as part of New Prairie’s future health professionals club. Recently, she says, students outside of health classes have been signing up for CPR and AED training, which is funded through grants from the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte.
The training has been paying off. In the past six months, at least four New Prairie Cougars have found themselves in life-or-death situations. Last spring, a New Prairie senior administered CPR to someone overdosing in a South Bend parking lot. Aerts says one of her current students did something similar in the fall. The young lady encountered a man on a sidewalk in her neighborhood. He was overdosing. “She had never even been CPR certified,” Aerts said. “All she knew was what we did in class in a two-minute drill.” Aerts said the girl started CPR until an adult took over. On Christmas Day, a New Prairie freshman tended to a man overdosing at a gas station east of LaPorte. And according to Aerts, a New Prairie grad, now studying at Butler University, came to the aid of her Chemistry professor who collapsed in the classroom just before Christmas break.
Needless to say, Aerts is pretty proud of her students. “It’s so impactful to their confidence, their courage, their willingness to help, and not whip out a phone and record it,” Aerts said. “It’s turned into such a positive thing. I hope it gives them the confidence to tackle other issues that they might not think they’re capable of, and see maybe they can. And as an educator, that’s kind of my job, you know, reach further than you think you can.”
New Prairie’s efforts have received widespread recognition. Aerts says New Prairie High School is the first—and currently only—designated “Heart Safe” school in Indiana.