by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Catholics from across the metro joined forces to make a dream playground a reality at Our Lady of Unity School here, they never imagined that it would also come together to save a life.
Volunteers were hard at work build- ing the playground the afternoon of May 10 when Teresa Ortega, a parent volunteer, collapsed a few yards away.
Bob Butters heard the urgency in the voice of his wife Nancy Butters, principal of Our Lady of Unity, when she summoned him away from the con- struction that Saturday afternoon.
Bob, the assistant police chief in Osawatomie, is skilled at responding when someone’s heart has stopped.
But this time, he knew the mother of three whose life he was trying to save; she had spent the past two weekends with her family helping at the playground site.
When no pulse was found, Bob started mouth-to-mouth, and Jose Ortega, Teresa’s husband, started chest compressions.
“All I can remember is seeing everybody running and doing their thing,” said Nancy.
A 911 call sent sirens wailing toward the school.
Teachers sprinted to the driveway to flag down and direct the emergency vehicles.
Volunteer playground builders dropped to their knees in the freshly poured mulch and prayed.
Teachers ushered students into the school for more prayers.
Emergency workers rushed to Teresa’s side and began working, but it wasn’t until they had her in the ambulance that a paramedic ran out yelling for Jose.
“We got her back,” he called.
The moments seemed like an eternity to the crowd at the school, but 10 minutes from the time crews arrived, Teresa was at the hospital.
A few days later — after she’d come off the ventilator — Teresa told Nancy she couldn’t remember any of that afternoon, not even the lunch she’d served to volunteers.
But the very first words she uttered to the principal came as no surprise.
“The playground’s all done, right?”
It took the shaken crew about 45 minutes to resume construction, but the group knew finishing the playground — already a huge team effort of Our Lady of Unity Parish, Ascension School in Overland Park, Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and many others and with the help of a KaBOOM! grant — had taken on an even greater meaning.
Teresa underwent open-heart surgery on May 19 to help with a condition she was found to have always had, said Nancy.
Now, many of the same hands that built the playground will be assembling tacos on June 22 to help the family with expenses.
A taco dinner will be held that day in the Our Lady of Unity School cafeteria at 2646 S. 34th St. in Kansas City, Kan., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Adult meals include three tacos, rice, beans and dessert for $8. Kids’ meals cost $5, and include one taco, rice, beans and dessert.
Nancy believes it was providential that Teresa — who had been alone in the school moments before her col- lapse — was among the group that was equipped to spring into action that afternoon.
An already special day became something this community will never forget.
“It all evolved into this community working together for an even greater cause,” she said.