By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

There is a common misconception that school nurses simply check temperatures and pass out band-aids. Michelle Hroncich (RN ’00, EMT ’03), the resident school nurse at Vestal Middle School, is the perfect example to dispel this myth. As a veteran RN and former paramedic with over two decades of experience, Hroncich maintains the care of over 800 students and the school’s teachers and staff. In addition to addressing common ailments — ranging from stomach bugs, to fevers, to physical accidents — a typical day for Michelle includes regulating blood sugar for students with diabetes, supporting students through mental health crises, administering timed medications and injections, and writing applications to give students access to free eye care.

While hundreds of families appreciate Hroncich’s care for their children, one family treasures her the most. That’s because, on the morning of April 18, 2022, Hroncich was called to do more than supply a bandage. Instead, she solely triaged a pediatric cardiac emergency, providing over ten minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitations (CPR) and four rounds of defibrillation via an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Thanks to her impressive response, the student healthily returned to his classroom within a month of the emergency.

Many, including Michelle, have reflected that her unique combination of professional experiences in healthcare contributed to the positive outcome for her patient. Hroncich humbly credits her mentors, fellow practitioners, and the foundation of her two SUNY Broome degrees for bringing her to this stage of her career.

Michelle Hroncich grew up on her grandfather’s farm in the small town of Triangle, NY. As her grandfather’s health declined, a home health nurse traveled to the farm to deliver his care. Michelle closely observed as the skilled nurse engaged with her grandfather and was moved by the power of relationship-based healthcare.

In ninth grade, Michelle transferred to Afton Junior/Senior High School, where she balanced being a three-sport athlete with before-school and after-school jobs in the cafeteria and at a local restaurant. After graduation, she headed to SUNY Broome.

She knew she wanted to enter the medical field but was unsure about her career path. After amassing a year’s worth of credits, she withdrew and accepted a certified nursing assistant (CNA) position at River-Mede Manor Nursing Ctr. Fueled by encouragement from the compassionate nurse who trained and managed the CNA team, Hroncich decided to pursue her SUNY Broome Nursing: A.A.S. degree.

From the very beginning, Hroncich dreamt of becoming a school nurse, and emulating the community nursing that she witnessed as a young girl. She soon learned, however, that school nursing positions were limited and best served by seasoned professionals. So, after completing her degree, she joined the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at UHS.

When she wasn’t on the CVICU floor, Hroncich volunteered with the Greene Emergency Squad as an EMT. While she loved working with the squad, she grew frustrated. “I was so grumpy because I was trained and expected to perform all of these medical tasks as a nurse in the CVICU unit at the hospital, but I technically was not allowed to administer them in the back of an ambulance as an EMT,” Hroncich said. “So I decided to return to SUNY Broome to pick up my Paramedic: A.A.S. degree.”

After almost a decade with the CVICU, Michelle, now a young mother, transitioned to family medicine, working under Dr. Martin Masarech’s team at Greene Primary Care. While she loved primary care, she but couldn’t pass up a position with UHS as a nurse educator, teaching both medical professionals and lay community members the mechanics and techniques of emergency cardiovascular care, one of her favorite topics. As Michelle neared her two-decade anniversary as an RN, she felt like it was time to fulfill her dream of becoming a school nurse.

Michelle Hroncich standing by the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) used during her resuscitation.
Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

She’d only been working at Vestal Middle School for a few months when, upon arriving in the morning, she was summoned to the hallway to assist a student who had collapsed.

As both a nurse and former paramedic, Michelle had performed hundreds of cardiopulmonary resuscitations, but this was different. It was her first community, pediatric CPR. Instead of being in the hospital, surrounded by a full code team, with instruments and medications readily accessible, she was the only medical professional in the building, still wearing her winter coat, left to rely on years of training and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

“The biggest blessing of that day was that our SRO, Officer Chris Cardarelli, could expedite the process and directly connect with 911. He relayed the message that our student was unconscious, unresponsive, with CPR in progress,” Hroncich explained. “I immediately felt calmer knowing that back-up support was on the way.” Hroncich also credits the quick response of the school teachers, who sprung into action to clear the hallway during what is traditionally the busy morning rush to classes. Due to their quick thinking, Hroncich could calmly focus on administering high-quality compressions and defibrillations while also preserving the student’s privacy.

After over 10 minutes of continuous chest compressions and four rounds of defibrillation via an AED, Michelle was able to hand her patient off to the EMS team for transport to the hospital. She then tidied up the hallway and headed to her office to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

“My main concern [had been] preserving the student’s brain function,” Hroncich explained. “It is critical to give high-quality compressions to circulate the body’s oxygenated blood to organs like the brain. The longer the CPR, the more susceptible the patient is to loss of mental capacity. I was only finally able to be calm when I received a call from his doctor in Syracuse, who shared that the student was following commands, playing on his phone, and asking for a cheeseburger. I was overwhelmed with relief.”

While, thankfully, Michelle Hroncich’s workdays are not always as eventful as April 18, 2022, her patient load and range of acuity make her immense value unquestionable. As she sees it, school nurses are the ultimate example of servant leaders, providing restorative and preventative care to students, which ultimately extends to their families.

“I’m not supposed to have favorite patients, but this young man is definitely mine,” Hroncich shared. “Because of our small community, I get the privilege to watch him develop, grow and do amazing things.”

Michelle admiring her wall of kindness. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

Tags: , , ,