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Association of California School Administrators

Association of California School Administrators

Student Naima Dellawar and her medical support team who helped her recover from cardiac arrest in 2020.

School supports student’s recovery

June 14, 2021
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of weekly articles profiling the winners of the 2021 Every Student Succeeding award.
Naima Dellawar
Grade: 11
School: Cerritos High School District: ABC Unified School District ACSA region: 14
The year 2020 changed Naima Dellawar’s life. In January, Naima was at track practice at Cerritos High School when she suffered a cardiac arrest. Then she had two more while on the way to hospital. Naima was medically dead for 45 minutes. Miraculously, she awoke without any brain damage. In the months following, Naima had heart surgery and began her recovery process at home after the COVID-19 pandemic locked down schools. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering her trauma.
With the support of her teachers and her counselor, Rocio Gomez, Naima has overcome these challenges to maintain a 4.0 GPA and participate in four clubs and her school’s Model United Nations program. She also created a Cardiac Arrest Awareness Instagram page (@cardiacarrestawareness) to connect with other young survivors of cardiac arrest.
Can you share a little bit about your medical event? On Jan. 29, I experienced a cardiac arrest while I was at track practice. And a coach came over to me and performed CPR. And then the ambulance came. ... I was in about a two-day coma. I woke up and had surgery for an ICD which is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in the case that I were to ever have cardiac arrest again, it would be able to catch it and shock me back.
You were all set to return to school and then COVID hit. What impact did the last year have on you emotionally? I think especially since I was supposed to go back the day that all the schools closed down, it was a little bit difficult considering that I wasn’t able to see my friends, my teachers and all those people who supported me throughout the way of my recovery. And especially given I was dealing with PTSD at that time, it was a little bit difficult.
You’ve been open about your battles with PTSD. Why is it important to you to speak out? I think especially during online school, and especially after my experience, I’ve really noticed that people are going through their own struggles that a lot of people don’t know. You just don’t know what people are going through. I think for me, I was affected by PTSD following the trauma from my medical event. But I think my counselor did help me to make sure I was going to be OK. And I think seeing a therapist also really helped.
You started an Instagram page to promote cardiac health awareness. How did that come about? I think I just really noticed there was just not much awareness around the world. Even with my family, we never really knew a lot about cardiac arrest considering we never had a family history of heart diseases. I think it’s so unbelievable to see a community through my page. I’ve met parents who have lost children from cardiac arrest. I’ve met other survivors. I’m just honored to be a part of this journey and being a part of a community where all the heart survivors can come together and make sure we’re raising awareness for this issue.
How has your school community helped you along the way in this recovery? I cannot thank my school community enough because they’ve truly helped me, especially my counselor, Ms. Gomez. All my teachers were making sure that I don’t overload myself and make sure I was healing after my surgery.
You’ve maintained a 4.0 GPA while going through your medical issues. How have you made school a priority? I just set my mind to it. I think especially following the event that I had, I really appreciated every opportunity, everything that I had. I started studying again. I started going back because I wanted to finish what I started before everything happened.
What would your advice be to students facing similar challenges? I know it may be hard, but thinking about the future and knowing that it will be better in the end is great positive reinforcement. Keep going and don’t stop.
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