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School principal puts first aid skills into action in remote community

As a school principal on a remote island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Sarah Rowe was more than just a teacher.

Locals queried her for banking help, she did the cleaning and when someone had a sudden bad turn of health, she was called on to provide the first aid response.

Although first aid and CPR training is not compulsory for teachers in the Northern Territory, Sarah believes it is invaluable, especially in remote communities.

Sarah was a teaching-principal for two years at Milyakburra School on Bickerton Island, a remote Aboriginal community near Groote Eylandt.

The tiny school usually has up to 15 students from an island population of between 80 and 100 people.

“The island had a clinic but has no nurses and hospital staff living there,” says Sarah.

“They would visit about once a week from Groote Eylandt but the rest of the time there was no medical staff and that’s why it was important to do first aid.”

Sarah, the classroom teacher and two assistant teachers from the Indigenous community took the initiative to complete a two-day first aid and CPR course provided by Red Cross.

The skills that were learnt and refreshed during the training were later put into practice to treat a jellyfish sting to adult staff during a school excursion to the beach.

On two occasions Sarah was also approached by Indigenous locals when a resident adult suffered a sudden health issue.

“On one occasion I was still working on emails and administration when people came up to the school and said ‘We need you’ and I was taken to the home of a community member,” says Sarah.

“I didn’t know it at the time but the patient had suffered a stroke. I performed CPR until the family asked me to stop.

“Another time over the holidays someone collapsed from a heart attack and they came to my place because they knew I had done first aid,” she says.

“Again I performed CPR with the help of a parent until the CareFlight helicopter arrived.”

Sarah encourages all schools to consider the value of first aid training for teachers and staff, saying it is a potentially lifesaving skill that could be called upon at any time.

“You might not be teaching in a remote community but you never know when first aid or CPR might be needed,” she says.

“When I had to perform CPR I knew what I needed to do and I just did it.”

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