Rhaeann Shepler, a school nurse at the Penn-Trafford School District in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, was honored for saving the life of a pregnant co-worker and her unborn child.
Shepler used the school’s defibrillator and performed CPR for over six minutes when Alexis Simon, a special education teacher at Trafford Middle School, went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Simon was eight months pregnant with her first child.
Simon’s co-teacher, Michael Cleland, knew something was wrong when he came into his classroom to go over some paperwork with Simon. “All of a sudden, I heard this odd breathing and she slumped over and it started happening,” said Cleland. “She was kind of breathing hard and sliding out of the chair.”
Megan McGraw, a guidance counselor, instructed a teacher to call 911 and get Shepler. Shepler, who had been very familiar with Simon throughout her pregnancy, grabbed her emergency equipment and rushed to find Simon.
“I have worked in a hospital and everything, but it’s never been my patient. I’ve never had the opportunity to do CPR besides on a dummy in class,” Shepler said. “(I was) just praying to God that he was giving me the courage to continue, and that I was doing this stuff right.”
Shepler, as well as Simon and several other colleagues from the middle school, were honored by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, the Penn Township Ambulance Association, and the UPMC.
Guidance counselor Megan McGraw, substitute teacher Leah Fertal, teachers Gary Bacco and Michael Cleland, resource officer Jonathan Kitterman, middle school Principal Roger Sullivan, and school nurse Rhaeann Shepler all received awards.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Simon. “I wasn’t expecting so many people to be here, but I am glad everyone is here, so I can thank them in person.”
Cheryl Rickens, EMS specialist with UPMC Prehospital Care and co-chair of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of SCAA, presented the group with awards, and commemorative pins.
“I think for the worst-case scenario, it happened at the best place possible — around people, and with an AED at the school,” Shepler said. “The teamwork, it all just really came together.”
Image: Alexis Simon and son
“It’s not something that you think you’re ever going to do and don’t ever want to do, but we’re super proud of everybody,” Sullivan said. “Every single one of my team members is very special. This was awesome today.”
According to the PA Department of State, Shepler has had an active nursing license since 2021.