Giving thanks will always have special meaning for the Taylor family of Wanamassa during the Thanksgiving holiday. Last Nov. 12, 13-year-old Sarah collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest while petting the family cat. Her 16-year-old sister Claire sprang into action to save her sister’s life with CPR she learned in a Girl Scout class.
Claire’s swift and heroic response was recognized by the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore at its Nov. 13 Board of Directors meeting. Claire was presented the Girl Scouts’ Medal of Honor, a distinction given only 16 times this past year to Girls Scouts nationwide who “saved or attempted to save a life under circumstances that indicate heroism.”
Sylvia Acevedo, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA, congratulated Claire in a letter saying: “Your extraordinary courage, incredible confidence and your willingness to take decisive action in the midst of an emergency has not only saved a life, but also serves as a shining example for Girl Scouts of fortitude and dedication.”
Claire was also presented a framed commendation from the New Jersey Senate and Assembly and a certificate from the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders declaring Nov. 13, “Claire Taylor Day.”
Claire recalled that it took only “a split second for me to realize this was no joke” when her sister collapsed. After yelling for help out her front door, Claire called 911. “I was holding onto Sarah. I was praying the hardest I ever did in my life while telling her that everything would be okay and that we’d get through it together.”
Through the panic, Claire never lost faith her sister would survive. Through instinct, she remembered a class she took as a Girl Scout and began performing CPR. “For five minutes, I wasn’t myself at all,” she said. “I acted with my gut instincts.”
“I am in awe of my daughter every day,” said Claire and Sarah’s mother Terisa. “If Claire hadn’t responded as quickly, or if she had panicked, Sarah would not be here today.”
Eileen Higgins, chief executive officer, Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, commended Claire’s calm and heroic response. “It’s amazing when you hear about extreme moments when a Girl Scout program activity makes such a life-altering impact. None of us wants to see children placed in such difficult situations, but you can only feel pride when you know you helped give a girl the skills necessary to make a difference. ”
Nellie Youmans, a member of the Wanamassa First Aid Squad and a former neighbor of the Taylor family who raced to their house when he heard the call on the emergency scanner said seconds count in an emergent situation. “Although upset, Claire kept her composure. Her quick response contributed to saving Sarah’s life,” Youmans said.
Nicholas Castellano, the Ocean Township Police Officer at the scene, called Claire a true hero. “She was brave enough to contact 911 and perform CPR on her sister,” he said. “To remain as calm and collected as Claire did at 16 years of age shows why she truly deserves the proper recognition. Her actions saved her younger sister’s life.”
After an initial medical assessment where doctors determined Sarah had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest, Sarah was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. While there, Claire’s parents signed her up for a refresher CPR course.
“When I went in, I read a pamphlet I was given that listed the steps you must take in order to be successful in an emergency CPR situation,” Claire recalled. “In that moment, I not only realized that I had done the right thing, but that I had done the right thing in the exact order needed.”
Today, Sarah is completely recovered. Despite the accolades, Claire doesn’t see herself as a hero. “After the event, I had a lot of trouble sleeping for the first couple of days,” she said. “I sat by my sister’s bedside in the hospital and she’d keep asking me the same questions over and over, because of the medicine she was taking. After one answer, she told me I ‘sound like an angel.’
“I’ll never forget that,” she added. “The bright outcome of this event is the life I will get to spend alongside my sister. She is my living proof that I have no excuse but to take advantage of life’s blessings, appreciate my family, and smile every day.”