When Mark Coenen reached an unconscious student near Shawnee Mission Northwest High School’s indoor pool, the situation was dire.
“I knew immediately he was in bad shape. He wasn’t breathing. There was no pulse,” said Coenen, a school resource officer at Northwest.
Coenen will receive the Lifesaving Award at the Shawnee Police Department’s annual awards ceremony on May 13 at Shawnee Town Hall. Coenen was the first person to perform CPR on the unconscious student during school hours on March 2. Emergency room physicians said the first responders made all the difference in the young man’s life, said Shawnee police Capt. Mark Hein.
“He recognized it was a medical emergency situation,” Hein said. “Nobody had done lifesaving procedures yet. He made a huge impression on this young man and family’s life. It was a very public situation.”
Approximately 35 officers will be honored during the annual awards and recognition ceremony. Officers are acknowledged each year with lifesaving awards due to the high volume of medical calls police go on, Hein said.
“Quite frankly, it’s often way too late,” Hein said. “We like to make recognitions for officers who are able to make that difference. The student was technically dead. The officer was able to initiate lifesaving measures.”
Coenen was on foot patrol near the school’s indoor swimming pool when a student from a P.E. class ran to him saying he was needed at the pool. There is an unconscious kid, the student told him.
Coenen radioed the dispatch department to alert Med-Act as he sped toward the scene. When he arrived at the pool, he saw a boy lying on the floor on his side, placed there after a teacher and students removed him from the pool.
The student’s medical emergency was not related to the water, but happened in the pool.
Coenen quickly started compressions on the student’s chest, recent CPR training fresh in mind. Hard compressions, Coenen thought as he pressed on. He recalled the clicking sound, triggered by the mannequin when he pushed just right.
“Your training kicks in. I just started doing CPR on him — compressions,” Coenen said.
“He actually started breathing again. He started coughing. I started yelling his name. He was sputtering.”
After 30 to 40 compressions, the student began to respond, then stopped just as fast, Coenen said. Coenen continued the momentum. He was up to 100 compressions by the time relief had arrived.
The student still wasn’t breathing.
School nurse Cindy Alexander resumed the compressions, then seconds later the paramedics arrived. They persisted for 15 minutes, administering CPR, a defibrillator and medicine, Coenen said.
The student eventually responded, was stabilized and taken to the hospital.
Coenen has used CPR nearly a half dozen times in his 18 years on the police force. Rarely are outcomes so good, he said.
Coenen says recognition among his peers is certainly an honor, but he sees a much bigger reward: He saw the student a few weeks later at school.
“I am more happy that the student is doing great,” Coenen said. “I am definitely honored to get the award.”
Jamie Greer, administrative assistant to chief of police and former Shawnee dispatcher, said Coenen’s calm demeanor affected the dispatchers and everyone involved.
“He was so calm and so collected,” Greer said. “The way you put things out affects how people respond. He was so calm and so cool. It was just very smooth.”
Coenen did a remarkable job that day, said Lisa Gruman, principal at Shawnee Mission Northwest. He did what he was prepared to do, she said.
“Hero gets tossed around a lot. He really was,” she said. “He truly did make a lifesaving difference in this case. It’s reassuring to know someone can step in when necessary and save the life of a child.”