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Family credits school, EMS for saving son's life

COVINGTON — A Newton High School junior continues to recover at home after suffering a cardiac arrest at school in late January.

About 11 a.m. Jan. 25, James Norrington told his teacher he wasn't feeling well, so he made his way to the clinic. Upon reaching the clinic, he collapsed.

"I don't have any memory of it," Norrington said Tuesday. "I feel shocked — I didn't know all of this happened."

Although the school staff didn't know it at the time, his heart had stopped — and his mom Nancy Norrington credits the quick response from the school nurse and other staff members for keeping her son alive.

"He wouldn't be alive today," Nancy said.

When James collapsed, a school response team immediately tended to James and called 911 and Nancy, continuing to provide CPR until the emergency medical service arrived at the school.

"I am extremely proud of the response of the Newton High School family toward James in his time of crisis," said school Principal Roderick Sams. "I want to especially thank Ms. (Linda) Pitts, our school nurse, for providing the medical guidance we all needed to provide whatever assistance we could. Having faculty members trained in CPR was essential in providing medical support for him, even though things were very chaotic. Our prayers continue to be with James and his family."

Nancy also credits Newton Medical Center staff with a quick response and the use of a defibrillator.

"Everybody pitched in and did their part — the school resource officer and staff recognized the emergency, and we responded. If they didn't, we might not have had anything to work with when we got there," said Scott Queen, captain of Newton EMS who responded to the call with his team. "The key to his survival was early CPR, early defibrillation and a mechanical CPR device. This was a whole community outreach — the whole chain worked together."

After using trial equipment last summer, Newton Medical Center purchased two LUCAS Devices at the beginning of the year; it is a mechanical CPR device that defibrillates and doesn't get tired, like a human being would doing compressions, Queen said.

"Everybody involved did an excellent job with my baby," Nancy said.

"God was definitely there," his father Johnny Norrington said. "I wouldn't have him here today if he wasn't at the school. I am thankful to the entire Newton County community."

After being transported to Newton Medical Center, James was transported by air to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston after his heart stopped again.

Eventually, doctors determined that James had a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which is an extra electrical pathway in the heart that causes it to get confused.

His mother said he's never had any health problems before now, and they didn't know about his heart condition.

"He's just a regular, active kid," she said.

James — who before his illness enjoyed riding his dirt bike and playing football, basketball, baseball and track at school — has not yet returned to school. Instead he has to attend a five-day-a-week health therapy at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite to get his speech and memory back to normal.

"He's almost 100 percent," Nancy said. "Every day he's improving. The doctors are in shock at how fast he's recovering."

His heart doctor gave James a clean bill of health, and once he finishes his therapy, he won't have any restrictions, Nancy said.

The Norrington family hopes James can return to school again soon or at least complete assignments at home.

"I'm ready to get back to school to see my friends, teachers and coaches," he said. "I want to thank all of the people who came to see me and wrote me and called me and for their prayers."