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Monday was a day of firsts for Eleanor Payne, assistant principal of Grand Island’s Veronica Conner Middle School. It was the first day of classes in the district. And it was also the first time in more than 20 years that Payne used her CPR training in a real-life situation.

She has been hailed as a hero for saving the life of a 10-year-old girl who collapsed at about 4 p.m. in a hallway at the Ransom Road school. The student is resting at home after being released from Buffalo’s Women & Children’s Hospital.

A statement was issued Thursday afternoon by Superintendent Teresa Lawrence on behalf of the girl’s family.

“We want to thank everyone, and we are extremely appreciative of all the help and support,” it read. “We are especially grateful for the quick response of Assistant Principal Eleanor Payne and the emergency responders. Our child is doing well and will be returning to school soon.”

Payne was in Principal Jerry Parisi’s office Monday afternoon discussing the first day when she heard a call from a room monitor go out over a two-way radio that a student was down. Meanwhile, the computer flashed with an alert that 911 had been called from inside the building. They rushed to the area. “What I observed was a young lady with her mother,” Payne said. “Her mother was sobbing and screaming that she was not breathing.”

Payne assessed the girl for any signs of life. “I turned her over,” she said. “I felt no pulse and commenced CPR.”

As a part-time fitness instructor who teaches cycling and cardio kickboxing at the Independent Health Family Branch of the YMCA in Amherst, Payne is required to have a current CPR certification. In fact, she received her CPR Pro certification from the Y on Aug. 30 because her American Red Cross card expired Aug. 31.

That advanced level is designed for first responders such as EMTs and firefighters who are required to have professional-level basic life support training.

Payne delivered two sets of chest compressions. “After the second round, the student became responsive,” Payne said. “The color came back to her face. She showed all signs that she was breathing. There was a pulse.”

She heard the approaching sirens of Grand Island volunteer firefighters.

“Once the EMTs arrived, she was alert and almost scared to see all these people above her,” Payne said. “It was a good feeling to know that she was going to be OK.”

Lawrence and School Board President Tak Nobumoto, in a statement released Thursday afternoon, applauded the response. “We are grateful for the skill, quick reaction and selflessness of our staff, especially Eleanor Payne, and the community’s first responders. Our school community is prepared and looking forward to the student’s return.”

Payne said she did not hesitate to act and her instincts kicked in. “You prepare and prepare, and it was one of those things where I’m glad and I’m so relieved that when it was needed, it was used,” she said. “We had a wonderful outcome with our student.”

email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com