Doug Schroder is a teacher and a clay artist — a ceramic potter who makes memorable things with his hands.
And so it was somehow appropriate, as he lay on a gymnasium floor Monday at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart — unconscious and struggling to breathe — that people worked feverishly with their hands, trying to save his life.
A friend and colleague blew breaths into him. Another did chest compression after chest compression. Another dialed 911.
And then Principal Laura Hickman arrived with an automatic external defibrillator (AED).
She attached its two pads to his chest and listened for directions. After electronically assessing his condition, the machine audibly said “shock advised.” Hickman pushed a button to shock his heart back into rhythm.
It worked, and a rescue squad soon arrived and took over. Best of all, Schroder, 41, is able to talk about it.
“Oh, man, what a day,” he said from his bed at Creighton University Medical Center. “I think they saved my life.”
The drama happened about 9:10 a.m. Monday in a physical education class at Duchesne, 36th and Burt Streets, where Doug teaches. He also is an adjunct art professor at Creighton University.
With the high school year coming to a close, students were playing dodge ball, along with some teachers. The last thing Doug remembers is reaching down for a ball.
Others saw him fall forward, first to his knees and then on his face, badly bloodying his nose.
Bruce Moore, the school's technology coordinator and a former Nebraska football defensive lineman (1989-93), ran to him. So did two students who have worked as lifeguards and are trained in rescue — juniors Sarah Porter and Caroline Kozlik.
Moore stabilized his friend's head and neck, and the girls helped roll the fallen teacher onto his back.
“It was one of the most frightening experiences I've ever had,” Caroline said. “In lifeguard training, they teach you to do CPR on a dummy. On a human being, especially one you see every day and care about, it's definitely intensified.”
Because Doug's face was bloodied, Bruce momentarily looked around for some kind of barrier mask. The school has them, but he had no time to look.
Doug's eyes were fixed, his face was purplish, and his pulse was weak. Bruce, who had attended the Nebraska-Creighton baseball game with him in Omaha last week, started mouth-to-mouth.
“After three or four solid breaths,” Bruce said, “he started to breathe on his own.”
He still didn't look good and was gasping. Then came the AED.
In the past decade or so, the machines have become more prevalent in schools, offices and other public places. Besides saving lives, they provide readings that are helpful to emergency personnel.
Hickman, the head of the 297-student girls school, said all Duchesne freshmen are certified in CPR in physical education classes. A couple of AEDs have been mounted on walls for several years.
She and a few other adults update their training on the devices annually. Other than checking their batteries, though, they hadn't been touched — until Monday.
“The AED is my new best friend,” Hickman said. “They are the niftiest things in the world.”
She said she is proud of how everyone responded. Students are now in final exams, happy that “final” is used only in an academic sense.
Doug Schroder, who could have taken his final breaths on Monday, said doctors have told him that three arteries were severely blocked. He will undergo bypass surgery, using veins from his legs.
A resident of Honey Creek, Iowa, he said he felt no warnings, but his family has a history of heart problems.
His pottery — including plates, cups and bowls — is recognizable for images stamped and imprinted on the surface. According to his biography, the images remind him of people or events in his life.
Wrote the artist: “Creating these objects allows me an opportunity to pay homage to the people and experiences that make me who I am.”
Fire up the kiln. Doug will be back.
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