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Heart specialist recognizes Triangle Elementary students who helped save teacher's life

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Specialists from Florida Hospital Waterman, including a cardiothoracic surgeon, recognized a group of elementary students after a regular school day almost ended in tragedy.

Earlier this year, a class of third grade students at Triangle Elementary School jumped into action when their substitute teacher suddenly collapsed midway through class.

“Martha Bellew was a healthy 60-year-old teacher, getting ready to teach a third grade class when she unexpectedly suffered cardiac arrest. She went down in front of a group of 8 and 9 year olds, and instead of the students getting scared or panicking, they responded to the situation. They got a school nurse, pressed the panic room button and probably within what couldn’t have been two minutes, a response team came,” said Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon Gary Allen, M.D.

Dr. Allen was joined by the grateful teacher, and used the opportunity to teach around 100 students about cardiac arrest and what to do in case an emergency arises. It was the first time the students and faculty had seen Ms. Bellew since her heart attack, and they were excited to see her happy and healthy!

In the presentation, Dr. Allen described what happened to the collapsed teacher, the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest, and he used an automated external defibrillator to demonstrate what was used on Ms. Bellew. They learned about performing CPR and were able put the lesson to the test on a dummy while being supervised by the doctor. The students were also given the opportunity to use stethoscopes to listen to their own heart beats. The presentation was geared toward preparing students for possible future emergencies.

Dr. Allen said because of the students' quick action back in March, Bellew was taken to Florida Hospital Waterman right away where the Emergency Team was ready for her. Bellew needed emergency triple bypass surgery, and was able to recover quickly; she was up and walking about a week later.

“I’ve done 4,000 to 5,000 heart surgeries, been in practice for 15 years and not only have I not done this but I haven’t even heard of this,” said Dr. Allen. “So it really is truly, remarkably a one in a million or one in a billion event.”

“I don’t remember much, and I don’t remember what they did,” said Bellew. “It’s just from people telling me what they did and I’m just thankful for them and for everything and going to get the people to help and for not panicking.”

Dr. Allen also gave the students useful tips on staying heart healthy themselves from the American Heart Association. The presentation ended with a pledge to follow those tips and to share the life-saving information they had learned with friends and family. The students also left with jump ropes to practice staying active and healthy.