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Dan Wessel enjoyed playing Santa Claus at the Osakis Public Schools on December 17 but later collapsed in a hallway when he went into cardiac arrest. (Photo by Jan Campbell, Osakis Preschool/ECFE coordinator)

Rescuing Santa Claus

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A week before Christmas, students and the school nurse at Osakis Public School saved our favorite man in a red suit.

Dan Wessel had dressed up as Santa Claus to visit classrooms on the morning of December 17. After he left the last room, around 10:30, he went into cardiac arrest.

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“I’m very thankful that it didn’t happen in front of the little kids,” Wessel told the Review. “I’m sure they would have told them something like ‘Santa’s sick, he had too many cookies!’ ”

Ariel Chalmers, a junior, looked up from her desk in Spanish class to see Santa fall against the lockers and collapse to the floor. Immediately, she sprang into action and ran to get the school nurse, Angie Baker. Another student, Courtny Walter, ran outside to get phone reception and call 911.

When Baker arrived to the fallen Wessel, she went right into action. Before Baker even got out of her office, which was just a couple feet from where Santa was, a third student, Brandon Giesler, knew to retrieve one of the several automated external defibrillators (AED) located in the school.

Unzipping the Santa jacket and throwing aside the pillow that made his jolly tummy, Baker used the AED and began CPR until Wessel was successfully revived. From the moment he hit the floor to the first shock he received, only 20 to 30 seconds had passed.

“Once again I was in the right place at the right time,” Wessel said.

In May, Wessel had suffered from his first cardiac episode when he had a heart attack while umping a softball game in Wadena. Luckily, three trained responders were at the ballpark and his life was saved with the use of CPR. That day, Wessel was revived three times.

While dressed up as Santa, Wessel was revived for the fourth time.

Kirsten Wessel, a health and physical education teacher and wife to the Santa in trouble, could only hope that her husband would be so lucky again. She assisted Baker in counting during CPR and never left her husband’s side during his second cardiac arrest in a little over six months.

“When I woke up to people telling me I needed oxygen, I heard Kirsten saying, ‘Dan, they are just trying to help you, it’s OK,’” Wessel said. “Immediately a sense of calm came over me.”

Once medical personnel arrived, he was transported to St. Cloud where he received a defibrillator with a pacemaker two days later.

Despite his situation, Wessel considers himself one lucky guy who is happy to still be around. He compares Baker and the students to the angels people talk about being out there in the world.

On January 24, the seven people who helped save Wessel’s life in 2013 will be honored at his wife’s annual Jump Rope for Heart.

For the afternoon, students will jump rope for as long as they can to help raise money for the American Heart Association. The event will be kicked off with presenting awards to Baker, the three students, and the three responders from the softball game in May.

After the softball game incident, the school made the decision to train more than 10 faculty members and every bus driver in CPR. They now plan to install more AEDs and hold even more CPR trainings.

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Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
(320) 763-1233
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