Angel in the French classroom — (The Star-Ledger)

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The Star-Ledger

Friday, March 24, 2006

BY JIM LOCKWOOD, Star-Ledger Staff

Hopatcong High junior is credited with saving teacher’s life with CPR.

The last thing 36-year-old Cheryl Gramp remembers is going for the scissors.  The Hopatcong High School teacher bent over to pick up the shears, started shaking, then fell backward and passed out on the floor.

The 28 students in her French class Tuesday morning were stunned but immediately went to her aid. A few ran to find faculty who could help.

As they waited, Gramp started to turn blue. One student, Angel Hernandez, decided something had to be done quickly. He began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Only an hour earlier, Hernandez, a 17-year-old junior, had practiced CPR on a mannequin in health class. He had the same CPR training in a class the previous Friday. He had never had any CPR training before then.

“I remembered what I was supposed to do. I went right for the sternum,” Hernandez said.

Other students helped coach Hernandez through the ordeal, and after some 30 seconds, Gramp regained consciousness.

“It was a miracle,” Hernandez said.

Gramp was taken by ambulance to Saint Clare’s Hospital in Dover, where she was admitted, then released on Wednesday.

The Hackettstown resident said she had suffered a seizure caused by an adverse reaction to medication — Wellbutrin — that she had taken to stop smoking.

Nothing like the seizure had ever happened before to Gramp, who has taught in Hopatcong schools for the past year and has been a teacher for 13 years. She described herself as having “perfect health” and enjoying skydiving on weekends.

Hernandez is being called a lifesaver.[]  

“This young boy was administering CPR to her. She had started to turn blue,” Hopatcong Superintendent Wayne Threlkeld said. “Essentially, he saved her life.”

Gramp said, “I’m glad all the kids did very well for me. I appreciate it.”

The fainting spell happened quickly. When Gramp came to, she was a little confused and had trouble answering basic questions posed by first-aid squad members.

“Her eyes stared straight ahead,” said Hernandez, jokingly adding that they popped out, “like Little Richard’s.”

The students and Gramp could all laugh about the medical emergency yesterday, because the teacher was back in school. The mood in the classroom was giddy and lighthearted. A welcome back party was held, then it was back to business as Gramp gave the class the quiz they missed on Tuesday.

Gramp and the students found it ironic that part of the test included a French vocabulary word, “sèvanouir,” which means “to faint,” from a story they had to read about a girl who had to perform CPR on her dog.

And then there’s Hernandez’s first name.

“Angel — his name suits him,” one classmate said.

But at the time Gramp collapsed, the situation was deadly serious.

“It was scary,” Hernandez said. “I was frantic.”

School Principal Emil Binotto said, “I’m real proud of how they handled themselves. They had a major problem on their hands. They all handled it (contributed) in different ways.”

On Monday, the school board will recognize the students and faculty for their actions. On April 5, the Hopatcong Borough Council and police chief will present Hernandez with a civilian medal.

Thin with black, wavy hair, and wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt and a “Rock Star” belt buckle, Hernandez hasn’t decided on plans for after high school but has been thinking about entering the Air Force.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “After this, maybe an EMT.”

Jim Lockwood may be reached at jlockwood@starledger.com or (973) 383-0516.