March 23 began as "a typical Friday morning at Guyton Elementary," according to Principal Charlotte Connelly.
But, she says, the events that followed were nothing short of "a miracle," as she shared the story of the day her staff saved the life of school nurse Melissa Harvey.
Although Connelly says "there is always an emergency in the nurse’s office," something was different that morning — the "very strange voice" in which school secretary Regina Hunter spoke when she called over the radio, "There is an emergency in the nurse’s office … Hurry!"
Connelly said she ran to the nurse’s office, where she saw Harvey unconscious on the floor. Special education teacher Kristie Lanier, having already called 911, was performing CPR on Harvey.
"She had a look of horror on her face," Connelly said. "Kristie explained that she came with a student to the nurse’s office to get a band-aid but found Melissa on floor. She was blue and bleeding from a cut on her head. I got down on the floor with Melissa and could not find a pulse."
Wendy Gracen, the school’s data clerk, jumped in to help, holding Harvey’s head back as Lanier continued CPR. Connelly said "time stood still" as the three of them talked to Harvey and prayed.
Connelly recalls thinking, "Melissa has just too many people that love her and need her. It cannot end like this …"
It was then that they reached for the defibrillator that had been placed in the school years earlier in case of an emergency. Connelly said she had always told Harvey she needed to teach the staff how to use the device.
"She would just laugh and reply, ‘I will be there to help if we ever need to use it,’" Connelly said. "Who would have ever imagined it would be my school nurse who needed it?"
Guyton Police Chief Randy Alexander had arrived on the scene and placed the defibrillator on Harvey. She was given two electrical shocks, to no avail. She was not breathing when EMS arrived to take her to the hospital.
The hospital waiting room filled with Harvey’s family, friends, co-workers and school district administrators. They leaned on each other for support as doctors delivered updates that were "not promising," according to Connelly.
"After three long days, the miracle we had all prayed for happened," Connelly said. "Melissa was waking up and all the signs pointed to a full recovery."
Doctors don’t know why Harvey’s heart stopped that day, but they put in a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Harvey returned to Guyton Elementary on May 7, running her nurse’s office as usual.
"If you did not know her story, you would not know that she almost died that day," Connelly said. "The stars were truly aligned that day. I believe in my heart Melissa Harvey is still with us today for a reason. She still has many more lives to touch, band-aids to give out and love to spread."
At a recent Effingham County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Randy Shearouse thanked her and her staff for their life-saving actions. Joining Connelly at the school board meeting were Lanier and Gracen.
"The heroes that we have in the room did save a life, without a doubt," Shearouse said. "Charlotte, I know you might not have felt like you remained calm, but the whole group remained calm and took care of the situation — and we are so appreciative of that."
"I am so thankful for everyone who worked together to save my life," Harvey said. "I am especially grateful to my co-workers for thinking and acting so quickly. They did an outstanding job during this emergency situation and I am so proud of them."
Her father, Richard Saxon, addressed the board of education and thanked everyone who helped during "the most devastating time of (his) life" — the Guyton Elementary staff, the EMS and hospital personnel, everyone who visited the hospital and all the people who said prayers for his daughter.
"She truly is a miracle," he said. "I thank you all very much and appreciate you all."
Harvey echoed that sentiment. "Every day is a blessing," she said, "and I treasure each moment that I am able to spend with my family and friends."