A miracle and a blessing – Cardinal O’Malley pays a visit to Winthrop’s Olivia Quigley

Thursday, April 2, 2009
By Cary Shuman

Cardinal Sean O’Malley blesses Olivia Quigley as her parents, Joe and Cathy, look on. O’Malley visited the 6-year-old at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton Friday afternoon.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley blesses Olivia Quigley as her parents, Joe and Cathy, look on. O’Malley visited the 6-year-old at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton Friday afternoon.

By John Lynds
For the Transcript

The 6-year-old East Boston student who collapsed and nearly died during gym class in February is recovering nicely and recently got a surprise visit from one of the state’s holiest men.

Olivia Quigley, a student at East Boston Central Catholic (EBCC), who lives in Winthrop, was walking across the gym when she collapsed from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Olivia’s heart had stopped, but thanks to kindergarten teacher Kathy Carabine and sixth-grade teacher Robert Casaletto, both trained in CPR, the girl is alive and recovering at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton.

On Friday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the Archdiocese of Boston, visited the little girl and offered her and her family a blessing.

“Cardinal O’Malley was pleased to have the opportunity to visit with Olivia, her parents and her brother Alex,” said Archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon. “He was thrilled by her progress and personally thanked the teachers who provided CPR and all of her caregivers for helping her along the path to recovery.  He was also pleased to have a chance to visit the Franciscan Hospital for Children and to offer his blessing.”

Doctors do not know what caused Olivia’s heart to stop, but have taken steps to prevent a problem in the future.

“She has a pacemaker inserted, so in the likelihood that this ever happens again, the pacemaker will pick up and beat for her,” Dr. Varuna Tully said last Friday.

The incident has put a spotlight on the importance of learning CPR. Immediately after the incident, Boston EMS said the quick action of two Central Catholic (EBCC) teachers who used CPR most likely saved Olivia’s life.

Just last week, the school held a daylong CPR training class at Central Catholic.

Every year, approximately 166,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest.  This occurs when electrical impulses increase in speed, causing the heart to stop beating.  Although many believe they are not at risk, sudden cardiac arrest can occur to anyone at any time, regardless of the person’s health or age.

CPR can possibly triple a victim’s chance of survival, yet only about 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR.

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.  It combines mouth to mouth breathing and chest compressions, increasing the flow of oxygen and circulating the blood during cardiac arrest.  This helps to ensure that blood can still reach the brain and heart, extending the brief window of opportunity for full resuscitation without permanent brain damage.  In the absence of oxygen, a person can become brain dead in only 3-4 minutes, while an ambulance could take much longer to arrive at the scene.  For this reason, knowing the steps to performing effective CPR is essential for reacting quickly in an emergency situation.

Her near death experience has Olivia already thinking of what she wants to do in the future.

“I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I want to help people,” said the shy girl.

Back at EBCC, Olivia’s teacher and friends can’t wait for her to return to her first grade classroom.

“Olivia is such a sweet young girl,” said her teacher, Lauryn Rozzi. “I can’t wait to have her back in school. Her classmates miss her and will be glad to have her back when she returns.”

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