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They're Desert Hills Hawks – And Heroes

They're Desert Hills Hawks – And Heroes
Desert Hills heroes

They’re used to working together to help students learn and succeed. But on a recent morning, five staff members at Desert Hills Middle School worked together to save a seventh-grader’s life.

The staff members – Courtney Bissinger, Kurtis Clawson, Ken Lattin, Ben Schuldheisz and Shaun Suss – each played a role in reviving the student, whose heart stopped during a medical emergency in class. 

The student is recovering and is expected to return to school soon. 

“To see the way they all reacted, it’s pretty special,” said Desert Hills Principal Casey Gant. “(The student) is going to come back to us, and the only reason is because of this crew.”

The student experienced a seizure while in P.E. 

He has a seizure disorder, and it’s not uncommon for him to have seizures while at school. But Bissinger, a one-on-one paraeducator who’s worked with the student for years, recognized that something was different this time. The student lost color in his face and stopped breathing.

As she tended to him, she called for help.

Suss, the P.E. teacher, sprinted to the office to summon an ambulance, and Clawson and Schuldheisz – who were talking in Schuldheisz’s office nearby – heard Suss and rushed to the gym.

Clawson is a teacher and former Marine with medical experience; Schuldheisz is a counselor and coach. 

Clawson quickly took the student’s pulse and felt nothing. Suss confirmed, and so did Lattin, a retired Kennewick Police officer who works in security at Desert Hills and took charge as incident commander.

Schuldheisz fetched an automated external defibrillator, or AED, located near the gym. The AED delivered a shock to the student and Schuldheisz did chest compressions as directed by the device. 

Before long, the student’s color returned, and he was breathing on his own.

Medics rushed him to the hospital.

Gant is proud of the way his staff handled the emergency – from the gym crew who revived the student to those who swiftly moved his classmates out of the gym or called 911.

Within 12 minutes of the seizure, the student was in an ambulance.

Bissinger, Clawson, Lattin, Schuldheisz and Suss were emotional when talking about the event recently. They all care deeply for the students at Desert Hills, and it was difficult to see one in distress.

“These are our kids. We see the good in them. We see the potential, the future. When one of them is hurting, it’s hard. It affects you personally because these are our kids,” Schuldheisz said.

But they’re grateful that the student is OK and that they were each able to do their part.

While it’s rare for an AED to be needed during school, it has happened before. Last year, a Park Middle School teacher use an AED to save a student who collapsed after a run.

All facilities in the Kennewick School District have at least one AED for use during the day and by groups renting the spaces after hours. Desert Hills has three AED devices, including one near the gym, one on the school’s second floor, and one outside at the track. Coaches, special education staffers and administrators are among those trained to use them.

Gant said the incident at Desert Hills was handled as smoothly and ably as he could have hoped, with the right people in the right place at the right time to help.

He and the rest of the staff are looking forward to welcoming the student back to school soon.

“We’re excited to see him,” Schuldheisz said. “I’m guessing it will sink in a little more then, when we see him back running the halls, laughing and joking. That will be a fun day.”