Physical education teacher Leah Robinson remembers the bitterly cold morning she stood outside Alexander County’s Ellendale Elementary School opening car doors for students – and hearing an urgent call for help.
Frozen in her memory are images of herself running down the hall, tossing her scarf, gloves and fleece jacket.
Robinson found then 5-year-old Kyler Bebber, a kindergarten student with a heart condition, passed out in front of a classroom.
For her role in saving Kyler’s life, Robinson got the National Merit Award on Thursday in a ceremony at Ellendale school. Signed by President Barack Obama, it’s the highest award given by the American Red Cross.
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“Leah’s actions demonstrate why a fundamental mission of the American Red Cross is to help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies,” said Suzan Anderson, community chapter executive for the Catawba Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. “It is vital to the health of the community to have as many people as possible trained in lifesaving skills because an emergency can happen at any time, in any place.”
A helicopter like the one that airlifted Kyler to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte on Feb. 18 landed on the school’s athletic field at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The 9 a.m. ceremony included awards for extraordinary personal action to school nurse Amanda Blackburn, the Ellendale Elementary staff, and the nurses of the School Health Services Team.
All were recognized by the American Red Cross for the part they played in saving Kyler’s life.
“We were fortunate because we had good communication with Kyler’s parents and were aware of his condition before he came to school,” said Ellendale Principal Jessica Mays. “We had a conference call with his doctors and had a team in place. It was truly heroic the way everybody went into action and worked together.”
Kyler, who turned 6 on April 17, now has a pacemaker/defibrillator and is back in school full time, according to his mother, Alisha Bebber.
The fact that the school had a plan to deal with an emergency “was our saving grace,” Bebber said. “We’re very thankful for Mrs. Robinson.”
The plan included an automated external defibrillator placed in Kyler’s classroom.
A certified first responder, Robinson had worked 3 1/2 years at Ellendale Elementary, where three generations of her family had attended classes.
On Feb. 18, she had bundled up for morning duty outside the school. Suddenly, a voice on her walkie-talkie asked for a school counselor. Then a secretary yelled for Robinson to come inside and told her Kyler had passed out.
Because of her Red Cross training, Robinson knew what she had to do.
She found Kyler on the floor and hooked him up to the defibrillator, which didn’t detect a heartbeat and advised one shock. After that, the machine indicated that Robinson should do CPR for two minutes.
As Robinson worked on the little boy, he still showed no signs of life.
She’d nearly reached the two-minute mark when Tyler coughed – and then cried.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Robinson said. “It was an incredible day. I feel God had his hand on me.”