When Jennifer Novelo awoke to a nightmare, her training kicked in.
The bubbly Estero High School student and aspiring Army medic was asleep when her sister burst into the room and thrust their neighbor’s newborn infant into her arms.
The child, 21 days old, wasn’t breathing.
“She was like, ‘Here, you know CPR, you know what to do,’” Novelo recalled.
The teenager did know what to do, largely because of Estero High School’s Medical Academy, a program that combines medical training and real-world experience for students aspiring to medical careers.
Using a procedure she learned only weeks before, Novelo performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the child, Leslie Lopez, occasionally slapping her on the back to remove any foreign objects in the child’s windpipe. The baby began breathing shortly after. It had choked on breast milk.
Rescuers from the Bonita Springs Fire district stopped by the program Friday to congratulate Novelo and encourage her classmates.
“If Jennifer had not been there, I don’t know what would have happened,” said Lt. Frank Giuliano.
It was an act that any of the 20 seniors in the program could have performed, one school administrator offered.
Real-world experience has always been key to the academy. Students shadow doctors and nurses during the course of their studies and as seniors they perform low-level nursing duties at local nursing homes and hospitals.
Although taking vital signs, shaving a man’s face, or changing a bed-ridden patient may not be as exciting or frightening as performing CPR, each skill prepares students for real jobs.
“Their peers think (academy students) are odd that they would go to a nursing home and change a diaper on an adult,” said Wendy Henderson, program coordinator.
“They have lofty goals,” she said.
Most students will go into nursing, Henderson said, and a few each year pursue medical school.
At the end of their senior year, they can test to become a Certified Nursing Assistant.
On Friday, the students, clad in blue scrubs and seated in a circle, “debriefed” one another on the week’s trials and triumphs at work. One recalled being scolded by a nurse, and another spoke about an erratic Alzheimer’s patient.
All were eager to talk, and none appeared squeamish or bothered by their duties.
Henderson said most students connect quickly with patients.
“They get attached within the first week to the residents they take care of at the nursing home,” she said. “It amazes me each year.”
Even with the training, Novelo still had to keep her composure.
“It was the longest five to 10 minutes of my life,” she said.
She remembers freezing for a moment as she thought of what to do. Henderson calls that reaction typical for beginners.
“That is exactly what first responders usually do when they go into the field for a first couple of times,” she said. “They freeze so they can focus on what to do.”
With time, rescue procedures becomes automatic, Giuliano offered. Focus on the patient overrides nerves.
“Your training just kicks in,” he said.
Novelo said she was thankful for picking a tough CPR trainer. Sheila Sarver, who has a reputation as a stickler, made sure Novelo learned the procedure on a mannequin.
“She made me go back like three times,” Novelo said.