Nova Scotia

N.S. lawmakers hear how a Dartmouth teacher used CPR training to save young student

Sofia Gouthro considers her elementary school vice-principal Rebecca Stickings as her "angel" for having kept her alive long enough for paramedics to restart her heart 18 months ago.

'I think of her as my angel,' says 9-year-old Sofia Gouthro, who sat in the public gallery

Rebecca Stickings said she used CPR training, with the help of a 911 medical communications officer, to keep Sofia Gouthro's blood flowing until paramedics arrived after the Grade 2 student collapsed in gym class. (Jean Laroche/CBC News)

When Grade 2 student Sofia Gouthro collapsed during gym class in December 2020, a school employee carried her to the office at Mount Edward Elementary School in Dartmouth, N.S.

Vice-principal and Grade 5 teacher Rebecca Stickings knew exactly what to do. The CPR training she first learned as a teenage camp counsellor in Madawaska, Maine, kicked in.

"You just go into autopilot with training and you remember the stuff that's necessary," said Sticking who, with the help of a 911 medical communications officer giving directions, kept Gouthro's blood flowing from her no-longer-beating heart until paramedics arrived.

"They did use a portable AED [automated external defibrillator] that they had on site at that time to revive her," recounted Sticking. 

"When she left the school she was breathing and she had a pulse," she said. "We were very, very happy about that."

Sofia had a rare disorder, restrictive cardio myopathy,  a condition where the chambers of the heart become stiff over time. She needed urgent treatment.

According to her mother, Stephania Galante, Sofia's heart stopped again not long afterwards, during a stress test at the IWK Health Centre. Her daughter eventually received a heart transplant in July 2021.

Now in Grade 3, the young student's memory of the day her heart stopped is not all that clear.

"I was running in gym and then I felt [like I] went back home, but I dropped on the floor and I went all black," said Gouthro. "I went in the ambulance and then drove to the hospital."

There's nothing hazy about the nine-year-old's feelings for her vice-principal. "I think of her as my angel."

Their story was just one of the examples from a group of people who appeared before the Nova Scotia legislature's Health Committee Tuesday to illustrate the life-saving power of CPR training and readily available AEDs.

While they made their pitch to the province to help spread the word, Gouthro and Stickings watched from the public gallery overhead.

Dr. John Sapp, a cardiologist, told the committee Stickings' fast action was essential.

 "Those were critical seven and a half minutes," said Sapp. "The result is in front of all of us, that Sofia is alive, standing among us in the gallery. Because her teacher recognized what was happening, was not afraid to act, and knew what to do."

Kathryn Rand, director of health policy and systems at Heart and Stroke Nova Scotia, told the committee her organization wants to train groups of students in Grades 7 to 9 how to administer CPR and how to use AEDs.

"The key to improving survival rates involves equipping Nova Scotians with the skills and equipment needed to provide a layer of protection to cardiac arrest victims when an emergency strikes," said Rand. "We want to create a generation of heroes through embedding CPR, AED education into the school system"

The national organization is hoping to start pilot projects in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as early as the next school year, teaching junior high and high school students how to save people who experience a cardiac arrest.

"It's an immersive documentary experience where the students will be walked though how to respond to a cardiac arrest by witnessing a teacher actually collapsing of a cardiac arrest and then they have two minutes of practice using CPR mannequins, as well as use of an AED," said Rand following the meeting. "Our hope is to implement it in the province by November of this year."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation would like to see the training eventually become a part of curriculums across the country.

Stickings has had CPR refresher training provided by St. John Ambulance since becoming a teacher, but her experience with Sofia has cemented the value of learning the life-saving skill.

In fact, she discussed it with her own children the day she helped save Sofia.

"The first thing I did when I went home that evening was speak to my own two children about the importance of CPR and first aid training and insist they had to have it at some point in their lifetime," she said. "My son will probably do his training next year and my daughter would like to do it at some point as well."

"Having CPR, first aid training can save another person's life. It's very important."


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.


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