WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Students and staff alike feared that longtime Lee High School football coach and teacher Tom DeGennaro would not survive after he collapsed in his classroom on Nov. 7.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute DeGennaro was fine, the next he was on the ground, lifeless. He had no pulse and wasn't breathing.
DeGennaro had suffered an aneurysm.
DeGennaro was between classes, but the popular teacher always has students in his classroom. That fact may have saved his life.
Immediately after his collapse, students in the classroom jumped into action and got help — first from teacher Pete Foote, whose classroom was directly across the hall.
Foote said he first thought the high schoolers were possibly pulling a prank.
"Once I looked up and saw the look of horror on the students’ faces, I knew it was something serious," Foote said.
He rushed to the classroom, began CPR, and directed students to alert others and get help.
"The hardest part is seeing your friend there and seeing someone that, I literally had lunch duty with him an hour-and-a-half before that," Foote said. "And an hour-and-a-half later, he's unresponsive."
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston said he got the call while in his office a few blocks away and rushed to the high school. Based on what he saw, Polston didn't expect DeGennaro to survive.
"Life changed in a moment," Polston said.
He thought of the loss it would be for the students.
"He's like a father figure to our kids," Polston said. "He pours everything into everything he does."
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