Harford school board honors life-savers

For one father, Monday night's Harford County Board of Education meeting was yet another reminder of how lucky he is that his daughter had survived an often-fatal type of heart attack that has taken many young lives.

For another mother, the meeting was a reminder of the loss of her daughter to the same condition more than two years ago – it was, however, also an opportunity to continue the healing process.

During the initial portion of the meeting, reserved for recognitions, the board members and Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback honored the C. Milton Wright High School coaches and staff, the firefighters and EMS workers with the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, the Harford County sheriff's deputies, the Maryland State Police trooper, parents, spectators and many others who played a role in saving the life of Colleen Houck, a 17-year-old C. Milton Wright student and basketball player, on Jan. 3.

"This event is one of those that, truly you read about in the newspaper, and you commend those who are responsible but it's the kind of thing you never believe you'll need to respond to," Tomback said. "When that basketball game was under way, no one predicted that that game would become exceptionally unimportant, but that saving a life would galvanize an entire group of people."

An emotional Colleen Houck told the responders: "Thank you guys so much; it means more than I can ever explain, thank you."

Houck, a senior, stood with her father, Paul, her mother, Missy, and her 12-year-old sister, Kelly.

Missy Houck thanked the men and women "for keeping our precious gift where she belongs."

She told them "there's not a day that doesn't go by that we don't think about you, with care and warmth and in the highest regard."

"We think about you when Colleen tells us goodnight and she loves us," Missy Houck continued. "We think about you when she goes off to school smiling. . . . We will think of you when she graduates from college, when she gets her first job, when she has her family, and we'll think of you when we're watching her kids play basketball on the court."

Paul Houck said later that Colleen was sitting on the bench during the game when she passed out from a cardiac arrest. Her coaches and trainers performed CPR and used an AED – automated external defibrillator – stationed at the school to shock her several times in an effort to revive her.

Rescue personnel also used their AED to shock Colleen. She was eventually revived and taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, and later to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

She has since recovered.

"It was a good 15 to 20 people who took part in [saving her life] and they all played an integral part," Paul Houck said.

Houck spoke to a woman after the meeting who lost her 18-year-old daughter to the same condition that nearly took Colleen's life, a condition known as Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, or SADS.

SADS, a genetic condition, often strikes young people who are otherwise completely healthy.

"I was happy for you, because the pain [of losing a child] is a never-ending hole in your life," Sue Butler, an Abingdon resident, told Houck.

Butler had come to Monday's meeting to watch her son, Clark, be honored with his fellow Harford County students who have earned selections as All-Eastern musicians and to perform with the Maryland All-State Junior and Senior Bands, Orchestras and Choruses.

Clark Butler, a 17-year-old senior at Patterson Mill High School, will play bassoon with the All-State Senior Orchestra.

His sister, Casey, died on Nov. 15, 2010, after her heart suddenly stopped while she was attending a music lesson at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She had graduated from Bel Air High School in 2010, and also played the bassoon.

Casey Butler helped collect used musical instruments through HCPS' Band Together program, which allows students who could not otherwise afford instruments to obtain the refurbished instruments and participate in music programs. She was named a Carson Scholar in 2009 for her efforts.

Band Together's fundraising challenge has since been named the Casey Butler Practice Challenge.

"It made me feel good to talk to that father," Sue Butler said about Paul Houck.

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