A Perfect Storm Event Turns into a Community Gift that will Pay It Forward

April 1, 2016


by Len Lathrop

By all accounts, a near tragic event at a high school swim meet at the University of New Hampshire has already had a far-reaching impact and, hopefully, will offer untold effects into the future that can never be measured.

Before you learn about the invaluable community gift, let’s recount the “perfect storm” that changed one Alvirne High School senior’s life forever.

Alvirne senior Ashley Dumais, a swimmer with the high school team for four years, had attended every state meet for all the years; her specialty was the freestyle.  It was January 24, 2016.  Ashley had swum her leg and, as the swimmer in the pool does, she moved to the edge of the pool so the next swimmer could dive over her to complete the next leg of the race.  Before Ashley climbed out she was observed going under the water again.  Her mother, Bonnie, mentioned that many swimmers, especially the girls, do that to get the hair out of their face.

But then she went under again and did not pop up.  Alvirne parents on the side lines immediately started to yell.  The lane timer from UNH  jumped in and pushed Ashley up, but as they were in the deep end, he could not get her unto the deck.  The Alvirne swimming coach, Sean McLaughlin, reached under Ashley’s arms and pulled her to the deck.

Mom Bonnie, with tears in her eyes, talked about the “dream team” of parents who began lifesaving efforts.  The professional credentials of the parents involved included an ICU nurse, an anesthesiologist, a paramedic trainer, another doctor and an UNH student who knew where the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was just down the hall.  Bonnie explained that the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital said that the great intervention that Ashley received was responsible for her great outcome.

But let’s finish.  She was transported from UNH to Wentworth Douglas Hospital in Dover and short transferred to MGH by ambulance, where they were met in the doorway by 12 treatment team specialists, doctors, nurses and other direct care professionals who had a treatment plan ready.  Before Bonnie could tell about the treatment at MGH she stopped and commented about this handmade blanket that the nurses placed on Ashley almost instantly upon her admittance into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Using hyper therapy Ashley’s body was cooled to allow her organs to recover over a 36-hour process in which she would need to be intubated because of the cold that then caused her to be paralyzed.

Once the process was reversed and Ashley was extubated, Bonnie told about the visitors that started to arrive:  Principal and Mrs. Beals, all her swim coaches and parents of other swimmers.

Bonnie kept telling about the community and the support that Ashley and the rest of the family received and how upon arriving home they noticed the dining room table was covered with cards.  In fact, Ashley’s dad, Randy, had taped so many to the large window that you could not see out.  This family could not be more thankful for the outpouring of support.  Now that Ashley is recovering, the family is determined to pay it forward.

Ashley returned to school a week after the event, and has a defibrillator; she is heading toward a complete recovery.

While Ashley was in the hospital the Alvirne community had a fundraiser to offset medical costs.  When the family’s insurance covered most of the expenses, Alvirne Principal Steve Beals asked what the family wanted to do with the funds that had been raised.  He mentioned to them a project that he had on the drawing board for a while:  to offer CPR and AED training to every student and staff member at Alvirne.  The family felt this was the best way to pay it forward and agreed that that would be the ideal use of the funds.  As Principal Beals ordered the necessary equipment to complete training for the 1,500 people involved, the Massachusetts company where they were ordered from chose to donate the training units.  Now the collected funds will be used to purchase another AED for the school.

On Thursday, April 21, the high school teachers, staff and students will be trained in hands-only CPR and the proper use of an AED.  Hudson Fire and Police, along with Hudson school nurses and other trained community partners, will teach members of the high school community how to perform these important skills.  The public is invited to join the Alvirne students and staff in the training event.  The public training times are from 9:15 to 11 a.m. or from noon to 1:30 p.m.  Please park in the visitors’ area and enter through the Steckevicz gym’s main entrance.

Dumais explained how critical the use of these skills can be for survival in a sudden cardiac arrest.  The window for a good outcome is only six minutes, and for every minute after two, there is a 10-percent drop in survivability.

It would be a major omission not to stress, once again, how grateful the Dumais family is to everyone who showed their support during this life-changing event.

Ashley’s hope is that people will realize the importance of CPR and AED training and maybe other schools will follow Alvirne’s effort to increase awareness.