Graphic with text that reads, "Alumni In Action" and "Veda Padilla" featuring Veda Padilla's headshot.

Original article published on The Pueblo Chieftain website on February 2,  2024. Written by Josué Perez.

‘God was working through my hands’: Pueblo nurses, parents save man’s life at school assembly

It was just after 8 a.m. on Jan. 17 when a full house of parents and students packed inside Pleasant View Middle School’s gymnasium to celebrate and honor some students’ academic excellence. It seemed like another ordinary day — an additional opportunity for parents to cheer on their kids at a school assembly.

The next few moments were anything but ordinary.

Just before 8:06 a.m., a parent seated near the center of the gymnasium floor began to murmur unusual sounds. His fiancé, Niki Toussaint, was seated next to him and her brother was sitting right behind them.

They attempted to make him alert, but at 8:06 a.m., he lost consciousness and his face turned blue. Other parents began to stand and call for assistance, while Toussaint rested him on the floor and yelled for help.

Veda Padilla, the school’s nurse who was on the side of the gym where the incident occurred, quickly ran over to the man. Within 13 seconds of his collapse, she began to administer CPR in an attempt to resuscitate him.

Alongside other nurses and parents, Padilla successfully brought the man back to consciousness. The whole ordeal lasted around five minutes between his collapse and resuscitation.

He was transported to Parkview Medical Center and is expected to make a full recovery.

Padilla and Pueblo County School District 70 did not share the parent’s name or the nature of his medical episode with the Chieftain.

“I’m obviously grateful and thankful that there are people who have their expertise and are willing to jump in and help people who need it,” Toussaint said. “One of my very best friends jumped in, so just knowing that there’s people like that, I’m really grateful for it.”

How nurses and parents teamed up to save the man’s life

Padilla, 25, works full-time at Pleasant View Middle School but also works as needed at UCHealth Parkview Medical Center on the weekends. She’s been a part of the latter since 2020, spending much of her time on the busy medical-surgical floor.

CPR certified since 2019, Padilla has repeatedly taken eight-hour classes that walk her through the correct steps to take while performing the procedure. Once she saw a parent stand up during the assembly, she suspected something was wrong and ran over. She saw the man was having a medical emergency and immediately began to administer CPR.

“Seconds make a difference, they really do,” Padilla said. “I’ve been in the hospital and I’ve seen it not go so well. So as soon as he came to (consciousness), it was just a relief. I thought, ‘Thank goodness.’”

Before then, it took an exhaustive multi-person effort to beat the clock and save the man’s life. Padilla instinctively administered CPR but temporarily allowed another parent to do so while she readied the external defibrillator. James Emrich ripped the man’s shirt off so Padilla could quickly place the device on his body. Lynnette Bonfiglio, public information officer for D70, called for EMS.

While Padilla listened to the feedback from the defibrillator, Kendra Bowen, another D70 nurse, began to administer CPR. Meanwhile, Jodi Hasenack held the man’s head to keep it stable and off the gym floor.

Melissa Pitts, a parent who worked for AMR Pueblo, also lent her support during that paramount five-minute period.

“Panic, fear, being afraid,” Toussaint recalled feeling during her fiancé’s medical emergency. “There were a lot of terrible emotions that I really don’t want to experience again. It was a really scary day.”

The rest of the scene inside the gym was also unfamiliar. Principal Gene Padilla and other administrators ushered parents and students out of the gym. Some parents moved chairs to create an unobstructed path for medical personnel. Several school staffers created a wall to protect the nurses and parents who were aiding the man.

Watching it all unfold was Macelyn Toussaint, Niki’s daughter and the man’s stepdaughter. Sitting in the stands prior to the incident, Macelyn, 12, was moments away from receiving a letter jacket after earning straight A’s last semester.

That’s why Niki and her fiancé attended the assembly. Notably, the man was not originally expected there. He was supposed to be at work, but because Macelyn was being recognized for her academic achievement with a school jacket, Niki asked him to come.

She usually doesn’t make that ask, aware that he doesn’t have too many vacation days. They’re trying to save them up for their wedding in December.

“God was working through my hands that day, and it just happened to be me and the other two ladies that were next to me,” Padilla said. “I believe that I was put here to do a job and take care of others and I was needed that day.”

The importance of CPR

Padilla and others involved in the successful rescue were recognized and given Life Savers candy for their efforts by the school board Tuesday night. She called it an “honor,” but shied away from being hailed as a hero, feeling that she was just where she needed to be and “had the skills I needed to help save a life.”

Though she hadn’t administered CPR in public or outside of the hospital prior to Jan. 17, Padilla has been involved in many high-stress situations while working at Parkview. That experience, coupled with her CPR training, helped “instinct” kick in, she said.

“It’s really good to think that we have someone here that knows how to do (CPR),” said Macelyn, who received the jacket at a rescheduled assembly. “She was there at the right place at the right time. Having someone in the building who knows how to do that is comforting.”

All coaches, nurses, nurse assistants, route drivers and some paraprofessionals at Pueblo D70 must be CPR-certified, Bonfiglio said. Padilla said she has suggested to others that they should learn CPR, even if they’re not required to do so.

Dr. Michael Emery, a sports cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told NBC News last year that CPR is the “most profound, life-changing thing you could potentially learn and do for someone.”

“After everything, I just wanted to tell everybody thank you because I saw so many people working together quickly,” Padilla said. “I know we have a good team here at Pleasant View, but everybody in action — it went seamlessly.”


Read the original article published on The Pueblo Chieftain website. Written by Josué Perez.