by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Schools in Kansas practice fire drills, tornado drills and even active shooter drills.
But John Paul II School in Overland Park recognized that there was one important drill missing.
“It’s something that’s probably just as likely, if not more likely, to happen than a tornado,” said Cindy Ascher, registered nurse at John Paul II.
The missing drill is one that practices a medical response to a cardiac emergency.
And running one at least annually is just one of the things John Paul II is doing to prevent cardiac death at its school.
John Paul II was recently selected as a Heart Safe School by the Project Adam initiative, which is operated locally by Children’s Mercy.
As part of that initiative, on Dec. 16, 2022, Ascher and fellow registered nurse Christine Kuhlmann were joined by nurses from Children’s Mercy and Project Adam, as well as an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team, during a cardiac emergency drill at the school.
With help from fellow staff members, Ascher and Kuhlmann practiced cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a dummy while working with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
“We already identified even today different things [to improve on],” said Kuhlmann. “Like when we get our new AED, it’ll be down by our office, so we’ll be able to respond to emergencies just by grabbing it and going.”
The two also worked on their teamwork, knowing that an improvement in response time to a cardiac event depended on quick, clear communications.
One focus, for example, was quickly identifying the room the emergency was occurring in; it doesn’t help to give a room number if it is commonly just referred to as “the kindergarten room.”
“You can’t prevent cardiac arrest,” said Kaitlyn Bennett, a registered nurse and Project Adam coordinator. “But we’re trying to prevent cardiac death by having Heart Safe Schools in the community.”
Children’s Mercy brought Project Adam to the Kansas City area in January 2020, and John Paul II was eager to get involved.
“We truly have superior staff here,” said Kuhlmann. “They really care about the kids.”
As a Heart Safe School, John Paul II will build an ongoing relationship with the Children’s Mercy and Project Adam reps to make sure they’re up-to-date on best practices.
The groups have already created an emergency plan of action should someone experience sudden cardiac arrest.
Bennett stressed the importance of a program like Project Adam.
“Being prepared is the most important thing,” she said. “You don’t wake up every day [thinking], ‘I hope I get to do CPR today,’ but you’re prepared because you’ve gone through this process.
“The hope is that other schools in your community will see your hard work and say, ‘That’s what we want, too — we want our kids safe.”
Ascher and Kuhlmann were excited to get the word out to their school community about their efforts.
“Hopefully, parents will see that even though we’re a small school, it’s important to us to be heart healthy and medically ready to do whatever we need to do,” said Ascher.
Leann Miles, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Mercy and volunteer for Project Adam, is grateful schools like John Paul II are taking the program seriously.
“This is all near and dear to our hearts,” she said, “because we see the kids on the other side and what the outcomes are. That’s why it’s so important in the community to give as much as we can back.”
Miles said school nurses who face cardiac emergencies are “the true heroes in those situations,” and they need support.
“School nurses are out on an island,” she said. “If you think about being a nurse in a hospital, I can say, ‘I need help, or I need so-and-so in here.’
“[Sharing with them] these tools will help them feel like they’re not as much on an island.”