Few will likely accuse Javan Cruz of being a big, loud talker.
But the smile on the 12-year-old's face said enough to the people he met Thursday morning at Pioneer Ridge Middle School in Independence.
Jaysa Camacho wanted a chance for her and her seventh grade son to thank all the people at Pioneer Ridge who helped save his life the morning of April 7.
Cruz went into cardiac arrest upon entering a classroom, and the chest compressions and two defibrillation shocks he quickly received from staff before paramedics arrived gave him a survival chance he otherwise wouldn't have had.
In all, Cruz went into cardiac arrest seven times before he began to recover, his mother said. But he indeed is recovering, implanted with a defibrillator and pacemaker but walking normally on his own.
Cruz's first day back at school was April 28, and he stayed for part of the day. Monday he was at school for a full day, and Thursday was his third day back.
After more than two weeks at the hospital and then working himself back to strength through three rehabilitation sessions a week, Cruz acknowledges he's been itching to get back to school.
“Seeing all my friends again (was the best part),” he said.
Though generally shy and quiet – 1-year-old brother Devin seemed to revel in the attention more Thursday morning – Cruz is obviously well-liked and easy to get along with at school.
“He has a lot of friends, and it was so overwhelming,” Camacho said. “The security guard at Children's Mercy said, 'Who is this kid? He has four pages of visitors.’”
Cruz said he doesn't remember the initial events of April 7, as he walked into the classroom of first-year reading teacher Amy Mack.
“It was passing period, before lunch,” Mack said, recalling that morning. “Javan had walked into the room, and as he walked in he was saying, 'No, no, no,' and then he just face-planted. At first thought he'd just passed out. Then he convulsed a little bit.”
Quickly seeing it was more serious, Mack ran next door and told that teacher to call the nurse before racing back to her room.
“She got there so fast, within a minute,” Mack said of the nurse, Dee Dee Arps. “I'm thinking, 'He's (12), this shouldn't be happening.'”
Arps, who was substituting for the regular nurse on maternity leave, said she was tending to another student in her office when she got the call for an urgent emergency and had to send the girl back to class. When she arrived, she saw blood on the floor – Cruz hit his face on a chair as he fell – and the boy gasping for breath.
“We got him to his back, and he had no heartbeat, no breathing,” she said.
Arps started compressions with the help of school resource police officer Michelle Acevedo – “She counted them out, which helped keep me calm,” Arps said – and yelled for someone to retrieve the automated external defibrillator from the cafeteria. That someone turned out to be social studies teacher Corey Lathrom, who ran so hurriedly he tripped over a chair in the cafeteria.
Mack credited all the students nearby for remaining calm and clearing out in a normal matter, giving staff and emergency personnel space to do their jobs.
“They really helped in this situation,” she said.
Cruz was shocked twice and was then whisked to Centerpoint Medical Center and then Children's Mercy Hospital. Naturally, the news of her son shocked Camacho, who was home from work with her younger son and is close to giving birth to a third one.
“He had just had a (sports) physical two weeks before,” she said.
Cruz had played four seasons of football and also basketball but said he didn't recall any time beyond the normal heavy breathing from exercise that might indicate a major cardio issue. His mother said an EKG, a specialized heart examination, normally isn't done during physicals unless something during that examination triggers the need for it.
Doctors still haven't diagnosed the cause of Cruz's cardiac arrest, she said, so a return to football, though desired, isn't imminent.
But Thursday wasn't about that lingering question. Rather, it was about now-happy recollections of a day that could've turned tragic, and Pioneer Ridge Principal Michael Estes passed out bags of Life Savers candy to those involved in saving Cruz. Independence Schools cited statistics that show children have less than a 6 percent chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital environment. Those who survive must receive CPR and defibrillation within 3 to 5 minutes.
Arps said it certainly felt like a “right place, right time” scenario for her.
After the former 20-year dental hygienist survived a bout with breast cancer, she decided to “pay it forward” and volunteered at Children's Mercy. She enjoyed it, “But I thought I was being called to do more,” so she went back to school and obtained her bachelor's degree in nursing.
Thursday's get-together marked a memorable last day of her substitute stint.
“God works in mysterious ways,” she said.