California school district shows how support and aid can be mutual in the face of tragedy

Six years ago, a 14-year old Olivia Ruiz collapsed from a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at Rosedale Middle School in California. Unknown to anyone, she had been suffering from long QT syndrome, a heart disorder that kills thousands of teens every year.

Last Monday, Olivia’s mother, Connie, donated an AED to the school Olivia once attended. She presented the unit on the first day of school out in front of the building. More than a dozen Rosedale school district officials and board members, ambulance officials and family members watched as the school accepted the defibrillator.

John Mendiburu, Rosedale’s superintendent, said the school and district were “forever grateful” Ruiz chose Rosedale Middle School as the means to keep Olivia’s memory alive.

“Don’t be afraid to use this and save a life,” Mark Storace, president of the Sacramento Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, told the audience.

When someone dies so young the double tragedy of life lost and potential life unlived is especially devastating for loved ones. Sometimes grief drives the bereaved to look for retribution somewhere -anywhere- they can find, but usually not. Usually those left behind come to understand that there is no one to blame, and if closure requires a mission, advocacy is often the result.

What the Rosedale School District did right was not to listen to their fears and advisors’ murmurings of liability –and there almost certainly were some– but to accept the loss for the tragedy it was and to work with the Ruiz family rather than hide from them. When the subject of an AED donation came up, the school helped the Ruiz’s to sort through their grief and to take measures to keep Olivia’s story from repeating itself.

Connie Ruiz’s mission, she said, is to get AED’s into all schools in her county. When asked what was next now that her daughter’s school had a defibrillator, she replied, “On to the next one.” Bakersfield Californian

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