Location: Tipp City, Ohio
Date: May 9, 1988
Shortly before 8am on May 9th, 1988 in the local high school in the small town of Tipp City, Ohio, teacher Ralph Suiter was in the cafeteria doing study hall for the day. Seventeen-year-old student Tess Donour was coming to get her attending sheet out when surprisingly, Ralph suddenly collapsed on the floor.
Tess, who watched in horror, quickly ran to the principal's office and told the secretary that Ralph collapsed. As the secretary told her to get health teacher Jim Judy and called 911, teacher Irvin Collins, who is Ralph's best friend, overheard what was happening and ran to help, suspecting it was more than just fainting. When he got to the cafeteria, he saw that Ralph was turning blue, his eyes were plowed over, and he was drooling in the mouth. Collins used a tissue to clean the drool out of his mouth and checked his pulse. He found that Ralph had no pulse. He then ordered every student nearby to leave the cafeteria so they wouldn't be around Ralph. A call went out to the town's volunteer Emergency Rescue Unit at 7:59am.
Tess ran in the hall and got Judy, who was a certified CPR instructor. He immediately ran to the cafeteria, suspecting that Ralph may have suffered a coronary because of the risk factors he had for a heart attack since he didn't exercise, also a heavy smoker, and was the right age for it. Once Judy arrived, he helped Collins to do CPR on Ralph. Tess got in and saw that Collins was doing chest compressions and Judy was doing mouth-to-mouth. But the other teachers were getting all the students out of the cafeteria.
As volunteer rescue workers went to the station to get their vehicles and headed to the scene, Collins and Judy continued to do CPR on Ralph. Paramedic Gary Jackson recalled, "For some reason, there were alarm bells going off in my mind because I knew this call was going to be a bad one. You have a few minutes to get oxygen into your system before brain damage sets in." "Ralph was not blinking his eyes and he had no pulse. For all practical purposes, he was gone. But we felt like we can't give up because he was a very close friend," Collins stated.
As Jackson and EMT Todd Stocker arrived at the school they graduated less than 8 years earlier, they were surprised to find that the victim was their old teacher. "I walked into the cafeteria and I was shocked when I saw who they were doing CPR on. I mean, I recognized Mr. Suiter, having been a former student of his in sophmore chemistry class. He was a friendly teacher, a good teacher, and if I had a specific problem, he was more than willing to stay after class or after school to help me out with it," Jackson stated.
Immediately, the rescue workers took over treatment from Collins and Judy. As they shocked Ralph with a defibrillator at least three times, he didn't respond to any of them. "I was just amazed that this teacher who I had was lying here dead on the floor," Stocker stated. Jackson recalled, "I was very distraught and frustrated when the first three shocks didn't work. I learned if you're gonna convert someone you will usually do it on the first or second shock."
As Collins and Judy watched, Jackson administered the cardiac drugs into Ralph's systems as Stocker performed chest compressions on him. The rescue workers shocked him one last time in the maximum wattage. He got a heartbeat and pulse, but was still unconscious. As they loaded him up in the ambulance, everyone wondered whether or not their efforts were enough to save him from brain damage and lack of oxygen during his heart attack.
After 20 minutes without a heartbeat, Ralph entered the hospital in critical condition. His chances for a full recovery were slim. Doctors tried to prepare his wife, Diane, for the worst. After hearing that there is a chance he will be comatose for the rest of his life, Diane felt numb. Determined that he was fighting to get out of his coma, she stood by his side. Perhaps due to her faithful support, he came out of the coma suffering only temporary memory loss. After undergoing heart bypass surgery, he returned to teaching that same fall. Since then, he changed his lifestyle. He quit smoking, starting exercising more often, and relaxing a lot.
Ralph won't forget his coworkers, Collins and Judy, and former students, Jackson and Stocker, who were there to save him. "It's very difficult to put in the words how you feel about people who save your life. I feel very close to them. I also feel very close to the people who supported me in the school after the incident," Ralph stated.
Jackson and Stocker felt great to play a small part to save Ralph. "I was so happy that I came back from having him as a teacher, gave him all the trouble that I did, and then ended up saving his life. So it was amazing," Stocker admitted.
Diane says that knowing CPR is one of the more important things that anyone can do for themselves or anybody else around them as it can save lives. "I can't imagine being without Ralph. I can't imagine our family without him: the children and myself," she admitted.
Ralph stated, "It made me realize the abilities that I have and it has given me time that I think I will make very good use of. Or at least I will try to and I'm very pleased to have that time."