Students save a life

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A pair of student athletes saved the life of a man who collapsed Sunday afternoon on the Hollidaysburg Area High School track where they were practicing football footwork drills.

Golden Tigers football players Daniel Baker and Caleb Parnell, both 17 and trained in CPR, rushed over to Jerry Jackson, 68, who Parnell saw had fallen to the ground. An onlooker immediately called 911, but for the next 10 minutes, Jackson’s heartbeat was in Baker’s hands and his breath in Parnell’s lungs.

Jackson of Hollidaysburg is an avid runner, husband, father of five and grandfather of 10. He is recovering in the intensive care unit of Altoona Regional thanks to the teenagers’ actions, his son Chris Jackson said Monday.

“The situation, for him to be at the track, and there are two 17-year-old boys who happen to be trained in CPR – he would be brain dead or dead if it hadn’t been for them,” Jackson said. “It is truly a miracle.”

Jackson said police escorted his mother, Kathryn, to the hospital and told her the story of the two teenagers’ actions on the way.

Jackson, who traveled to Altoona from Shippensburg, said his father has begun to speak and is able to say the names of all of his five children and 10 grandchildren, who are with him at the hospital.

Jerry Jackson’s granddaughter Aleah, a sixth-grader at Charles W. Longer Elementary School, was eager to thank Baker and Parnell.

“She said, ‘I want to give those boys a hug for saving my Pappy,’ and this morning at school, she did,” Jackson said Monday.

The teenagers acted methodically, with training they had never used in a real situation, to restore and maintain Jackson’s pulse for about 10 minutes until paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital where he underwent heart bypass surgery.

They said they began by turning Jackson onto his side, and Parnell, a member of the Blue Knob Ski Patrol, stabilized Jackson’s neck.

Parnell recently placed third in a young adult patrollers competition featuring 46 participants from local ski patrols that offer first aid and volunteer services.

Parnell and Baker checked for Jackson’s pulse and found none.

Baker, who completed lifeguard CPR training in March, removed Jackson’s dentures and checked to ensure his airway was clear before beginning to perform chest compressions while Parnell ran to his car to retrieve a pocket CPR mask, which he carries because of his ski patrol training.

Baker said he spoke to Jackson, who was making eye contact and gasping for breath.

“Stay with me. Stay with me,” Baker said to Jackson as he pumped his chest. Even for Baker, who plays wide receiver and defensive back, performing the textbook 100 chest compressions 2 inches deep per minute was incredibly difficult for 10 minutes. Every 30 compressions, Parnell, a Hollidaysburg Area quarterback, administered two rescue breaths.

They got Jackson breathing, but it was only an occasional gasp for air, they said.

Parnell’s father, Tim Parnell, an emergency medical technician and physical therapist who lives near to the track, was called by one of the boys’ friends and arrived about five minutes prior to ambulances to assist the teenagers.

When he arrived, Baker stepped aside, but Parnell ordered him and his son to continue administering CPR.

“As soon as they stopped CPR, his pulse dropped off,” Parnell said.

“He [Baker] was in a zone,” Parnell said. “Never missed a beat.”

Paramedics arrived and used a defibrillator to get Jackson’s heart pumping, the teenagers said.

Later that evening, Parnell and his parents, Tim and Lisa Parnell, a preschool teacher, visited the hospital with Baker and his parents, Dr. John Baker, a Nason Hospital emergency room doctor, and Kelly Baker, an emergency room nurse.

They didn’t know Jackson’s name, but it turned out that Jackson’s family had been looking for them.

“How do we find these young men who saved our father’s life?” Chris Jackson asked.

With directions from a nurse, the student athletes and their parents went to Jackson’s room.

“There were a lot of hugs and tears,” Chris Jackson said, noting how moved he was that the boys’ parents had listed his father’s name on their churches’ prayer chain as “Pappy” because they didn’t know his name.

Jackson said his father’s heart has stopped twice since being cared for at the hospital, but he is making progress. Parnell and Baker continue to check in with him.

“I got texts from them saying, ‘How is he doing?’ ‘We are praying for him.’ ‘Is it OK if we come in to see him?'” he said. “They are just amazing young men, and they want to be doctors.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.