'So grateful:' Teen's life saved by quick-acting Park Ridge school nurse and gym teacher

Article By: Shaylah Brown

Then came March 8, which Russell said would become "a day that I will never forget."

As an ambulance and police cars pulled up to Park Ridge High School on March 8, Janelle Larghi could see the lights and hear the sirens from the food pantry she manages nearby.

“That’s not good,” she remembers saying to her husband.

Then the school principal called, and she immediately knew there was trouble with her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole.

“Is Nicole conscious?” Larghi asked. The principal wanted to know how quickly she could get there. Nicole had gone into cardiac arrest at school and was unresponsive.

Larghi had been trying to arrange a food delivery when the principal called. She had a pallet of food that wouldn't fit through the door and she had to unload the entire delivery by hand.

“I remember feeling really agitated by that, like, Oh my gosh, I have so many things to do,” Larghi said. She and her husband, David Larghi, would otherwise have been out running errands for Tri-Boro Food Pantry.

Nicole Larghi was diagnosed at age 6 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart defect that makes it harder for her heart to pump blood.

It's an inherited condition. Her grandfather Butch Mancini died of a heart attack at age 51.

At the time they didn’t know anything about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or that he carried the gene for the condition.

But today, the family, through the Butch Mancini Foundation, arranges heart screenings for every student at Park Ridge High School.

“We started doing a scholarship fund in memory of him, but then we used it as a launchpad for the heart screenings,” Larghi said. The family works hard to keep the community informed about adolescent heart screenings, and are well known in the district.

Jeanne Russell became a nurse at Park Ridge High School in September 2019 and in a short time had gotten to know Nicole well. Nicole, who was anxious about her heart condition, stopped by the nurse's office often.

The two would talk about life, friends, and Nicole’s college plans.

“She always has a smile on her face, so whenever she would come into my office it was always nice to spend time with her,” said Russell, who also works at Holy Name Medical Centre in Teaneck.

Then came March 8, which Russell said would become "a day that I will never forget."

It was a Monday. Nicole was having a good day, her friends say (Nicole remembers nothing). She was walking with her best friends, who are triplets, into Spanish class and they were singing, which is not unusual for the friend group. Maybe it was a tune from "The Addams Family" musical, which Nicole recently starred in alongside her 14-year-old brother, Justin.

Then Nicole felt faint. She headed to the nurse's office and told Russell that she felt like she was about to pass out. Within seconds, she was on the floor.

Immediately, Russell was on the phone to EMS and had grabbed her walkie-talkie to call physical education teacher and EMT Danielle Centurione. Her tone of voice was assertive, Centurione recalls. Centurione sprinted from the gym to Russell’s office.

“When I got the call over the walkie-talkie, when I saw it was Nicole, my first thought was it’s her heart,” Centurione said.

The two began giving CPR.

“As Danielle and I are administering two-person CPR, another EMT from the town arrived on the scene and walked right into my office. The three of us were working together,” Russell said.

Police arrived and used an automated external defibrillator on Nicole. They had to shock her six to seven times, said David Larghi. She was out for 20 minutes.

But Nicole hung on, thanks to the Park Ridge educators, EMTs and police. She now represents the 10% of teens who survive sudden cardiac arrest.

“It was her day to stay,” Centurione said.

After it was all over, the school's vice principal told Centurione, who is a runner and a track coach, that no one could have gotten to Nicole faster.

“Everything fell into place the way it was supposed to. All the stars aligned that day,” Centurione said.

Now Nicole, who had a pacemaker implanted, is looking forward to enjoying time with family and friends, and she is excited for her senior year.

“I was given a second chance, and I just feel so grateful,” she said.

Russell said, “I am just so glad and thankful that everything turned out positively because she has such an amazing future ahead of her.”

Centurione and Russell, along with the Larghi family, the EMTs, and responding police officers, will be honoured at Park Ridge’s school board meeting on May 24.

“Ms. Russell and Ms. Centurione are real-life examples of the term 'grace under pressure.' Their ability to stay focused and calm, during what must have been an incredibly tense situation, was truly remarkable," Superintendent Robert Gamper said.

For Russell, knowing Nicole is OK is enough. “Janelle Larghi emailed a few of us the night of the incident; it was a photo of Nicole smiling in her hospital room, and that was all that I needed,” she said.


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