BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
BISMARCK — Fifteen minutes before dismissal at Bismarck-Henning Junior High School quickly became the longest minutes of Josie Siddens’ life.
Siddens, the nurse for the school district, was returning to her office March 25 when a student came running up, telling her 12-year-old Ashton Norwell was screaming in the gymnasium.
Norwell was being led to Siddens’ office because he felt sick when he began to cry out in pain. But by the time Siddens — who was only seconds from the gymnasium — arrived, the boy was unresponsive and not breathing.
From there, Siddens went into action, moving the boy to the gym floor with the help of a gym teacher while Principal Rusty Campbell called 911. Another gym teacher stepped into the hallway to retrieve an automated external defibrillator hanging on the wall.
Talking about the scene Thursday, Siddens admitted a lot of it was a blur.
“I was looking at (the scene) saying ‘This is not happening here,’” said Siddens, a part-time emergency room nurse at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center. “From there it was just gut reaction.”
Siddens said she used the defibrillator immediately and then began CPR. She repeated the process, but was getting no response from Ashton, who had turned blue.
“I was scared the entire time, but from the second shock on I was saying ‘C’mon, buddy. C’mon, Ashton,’” Siddens recounted.
Suddenly, following the third shock from the defibrillator, Ashton drew a quick gasp of air. Oxygen provided by Bismarck Community Ambulance helped bring him around and by the time Medix Ambulance personnel arrived, the lifeless boy was cracking jokes at his school nurse.
“There’s never been a better sound in my life than hearing him talk to me,” she said. “It was just fantastic.”
It may have only been a few minutes, but the scene was emotionally draining for Siddens.
“I’m fine during the emergency, I can handle myself well during the emergency,” she said. “But immediately after the emergency, not so well. Lots of people held me up after that.”
The school was aware Ashton had dealt with heart problems since he was an infant. But nothing like this had ever taken place before.
As a full-time school nurse, Siddens was thinking ahead during the incident. She requested Medix ambulance for medication in case Ashton couldn’t be revived with the defibrillator.
Officials at Bismarck-Henning Junior High said the scene a week ago underscores the importance of school nurses.
“Her knowledge in being a trained nurse played a huge role in it,” Campbell said. “There’s a tremendous amount of training time in preparing herself for this kind of thing.
“This is all the more reason to keep nursing on staff,” he added. “You hope you never have this situation, but if you do you want people who know how to do things.”
According to a statement issued in October by the National Association of School Nurses, more than 50 percent of public schools in the United States do not have a full time registered nurse. Wide disparities exist from state to state, between urban and rural schools and within school districts.
National Association of School Nurses figures from 2009 rank Illinois in the bottom 10 of states with a ratio of one school nurse per 2,023 students. Indiana is ranked 20th in the U.S. with one school nurse for every 909 students.
Siddens said she knows a lot of other school nurses who have gotten pink slips. She doesn’t see how a district can go without a school nurse.
“I hate for something like this to awaken everybody, but these things can happen,” she said. “You need people trained for that in the building. And not just trained, but that can react.”