Joey Coughlin, a 16-year-old sophomore at Rose Bud High School, doesn’t remember much about the day he died and was revived.
“They told me my heart stopped, and nurse Jeannie saved me,” Coughlin said. “I just died in the school. I don’t remember anything.”
Jeannie Cook, the district’s only nurse, performed CPR and used an automatic external defibrillator on Coughlin until first responders arrived.
“I remember I got to school and then sat down, ate and talked to my friends,” the teenager said. “That’s all I remember from that day, and I woke up in [Arkansas] Children’s Hospital.”
Coughlin said Arkansas Children’s Hospital doctors told him he had experienced aborted sudden cardiac death. A defibrillator was implanted in the 6-3, 262-pound young man, who was back at school on Tuesday.
Cook said she still gets chills when she thinks about the experience.
“I’m sitting here doing my work, and two high school kids run in, frantic,” she said. It was Feb. 8, at the end of the school day.
Cook said her office is in the elementary school about 200 feet from the high school classroom where Coughlin collapsed. She grabbed her stethoscope and the AED, one of five the district has.
She has been the school nurse for 11 years, and she said it’s the first time she’s ever had to perform CPR or use an AED.
“When I walked into the room, this boy was out on the floor. Just from the looks of it, I said, ‘This is no typical seizure,’” Cook said. “From then on, it’s kind of a blur,” she said.
“I told somebody to call 911. I kind of slapped his face and said, ‘Joey, Joey,’ but there was nothing there — at all. I listened with the stethoscope. Nothing,” she said. “It still makes me weak-kneed, it does, to even talk about it.”
High School Principal Tyler Reed got to the room just seconds before Cook.
“She literally walked in with her AED, and she had a stethoscope around her neck, and she started yelling his name. She knew who he was. She did CPR, and I would ask her, ‘Nurse Jeannie, what do you need from me?’ She was just in the zone. She had it,” Reed said.
Cook said it was traumatic for the students to see their classmate lifeless on the floor.
“I looked around when I saw things weren’t right, and I said, “Get these kids out of here,’” she said.
She said Coughlin had agonal breathing. “That was the first time I’d ever heard it; that scared me,” she said.
Cook said she started chest compressions, and she opened the AED kit with help from Danny Starkey, vice principal of the high school.
“I think I spoke out loud. … I think I told Danny, ‘You need to start praying,’” she said.
“I just did compressions and mouth-to-mouth, and the AED would tell you, ‘Stop CPR,’ so I’d stop,” Cook said. “It would say, ‘Shock advised; do not touch patient.’”
Cook said she was getting exhausted.
“The next thing I know, the EMTs, the first responders, roll in there, and oh, my God, my hat always goes off to them when I see them roll off [the truck] because you’re not alone,” she said. Cook said the first responders were part of the Rose Bud Volunteer Fire Department.
The EMTs unhooked the cables to the school’s AED and plugged it into theirs.
“Somebody in the background said, ‘Stop, I think he’s got a rhythm,’” Cook said. “And he started breathing on his own.
“I’m telling you, God had his hand on this boy. It was not his time.”
Coughlin was taken to the Baptist Health-Heber Springs emergency room and was then flown by helicopter to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
Coughlin said he woke up to a doctor trying to get him to drink water.
“They said the nurse at Rose Bud saved me, and I should give her a big thanks,” Coughlin said.
Cook said she took the AED to Arkansas Children’s so its data could be retrieved.
“The doctor walks in, and he looks and turns to all the other doctors in the conference room and said, ‘This is true v-tach (a life-threatening arrhythmia). This boy isn’t supposed to be alive,’” Cook said.
Reed said he is proud of everyone involved in the emergency response.
“I am so proud of them; I cannot tell you. It didn’t really hit me when it happened. It was maybe a day or two later. I thought, ‘He was in the safest place possible,’” Reed said. “It was 20 minutes until the end of the day.”
Coughlin said that after school, he would have been at home or on a bus, which does not have an AED.
“I’d be done,” he said.
Coughlin’s mother, Alisha Bates of Mayflower, said the call from school that her son had collapsed was the worst phone call of her life. It was worse, she said, than when her mother, Diann Bates, died in December. Coughlin was her mother’s “baby,” Bates said.
“The first time I saw him, he was lifeless in that hospital bed,” Bates said. “The first thing I thought when I saw him is his grandma was watching over him.”
Bates said that within two days, her son seemed like his “old self.”
She is thankful to have her son back and is grateful to Cook.
“Between her, God and my mother up there watching over him, they saved his life,” Bates said. “It’s crazy how things can change like that in a blink of an eye.”
Coughlin is fairly nonchalant about his experience.
“I don’t think crazily about it, but I know it happened, and I think about it sometimes,” Coughlin said. Although he can exercise, “I can’t play football anymore, so that’s a big change. That’s the main thing I’m upset about. I have to think about my limits now.”
The student and his father, Dallas, went to the school Feb. 15 to take Valentine’s Day gifts to Cook. “We hugged, and I thanked her,” Coughlin said.
“I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you are the best valentine — even a day late!’” Cook said. “His dad told me, ‘The doctor told me that if it had not been for you and your quick thinking and the use of the AED, Joey would not be alive.’”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.