NAMPA, Idaho — When Tammy Tawney’s heart went into cardiac arrest, two boys she was counseling stepped up and helped save her life.

The boys — 16-year-old Morgan Mullinix and 15-year-old C.J. Nuzio — were staying at Harmony House in Meridian, an adolescent substance abuse residential program for youth 13 to 17 years old, the Idaho Press reported.

It was Aug. 22 when Tawney, who has been a counselor at Harmony House for a decade or so, took Morgan to the Nampa Job Corps to turn in an application.

C.J. was invited to join them. Morgan had been a client at Harmony House for about two months. C.J. had only been at the house four days.

Tawney showed the boys around the center. They were walking back to the vehicle and were about 20 feet away when Tawney dropped what she was carrying and fell to the cement, C.J. said.

The boys thought she was joking at first. As her muscles started contracting they knew they needed to get help, C.J. said. C.J. attempted to unlock Tawney’s cellphone to call 911, while Morgan ran back into the building to ask someone at the front desk to call for help.

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C.J. finally unlocked the phone, and a 911 dispatcher was able to talk Morgan through CPR while the teenagers waited for emergency responders to arrive.

“If someone does CPR while EMS are on their way, it triples their chance of survival,” said Steve Blados, deputy chief with Canyon County Paramedics. “If these two kids would’ve just called 911 and stood there, her chance of survival would’ve been so much less.”

Blados estimated Tawney had no pulse, breath or heart rhythm for about 20 minutes.

Canyon County Paramedics were dispatched to the scene at 2:31 p.m. and arrived five minutes later. Paramedics and Nampa firefighters performed CPR, used a defibrillator twice and gave her medication.

Tawney experienced a heart attack and two strokes, she told the Idaho Press. She now has a pacemaker. The strokes have caused short- and long-term memory loss. She said she doesn’t remember the day of the incident at all.

Tawney is grateful the boys were so quick to react. Since she’s been out of the hospital, she’s celebrated her 50th birthday, her daughter’s 21st birthday and her son’s 17th birthday — something she might not have been able to do without the boys’ help.

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She loves working with teenagers. In the past, when people hear what she does for a living, they have apologized to her, assuming it’s really difficult work.

“I think they’re the most promising population,” she said. “Adolescents have the most hope.”

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Program manager and clinical director of the Harmony House, Lynn McDonald, acknowledged the boys have made mistakes in the past. On that day in August, they could have done a number of things, including running away, but they didn’t, she said.

“Nothing like going from what was considered a juvenile delinquent to a hero all in one fell swoop,” McDonald said. “I’m very proud of them.”

Tawney has not returned to work yet. She was released from the hospital Aug. 31.

C.J. — who remembers Tawney yelling at him on his first morning at the house because he didn’t want to get out of bed — is excited for her return.

Morgan described his relationship with Tawney as a close one.

“It was good ’cause she’s been helping me through a lot and helping me improve my life. I’m glad I got to save her life,” Morgan said.

Morgan has since graduated from the program, which lasts 90 to 120 days. At his graduation ceremony, he received a life-saving certificate for his actions in August.

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LEARNING THE BASICS

The incident made McDonald and the house’s owner realize that some training would benefit the youth at the house. Both boys had no idea how to perform CPR, they said.

Of the cardiac arrest victims in Canyon County from January to May of this year, those who had people perform bystander CPR and also used a defibrillator were 66% more likely to survive than compared to only 26% of people who had no CPR done before paramedics arrived.

“We couldn’t do this without partnerships. This wasn’t just Canyon County Paramedics, this was the two boys, the 911 dispatchers, the Nampa firefighters and our medics,” Blados said.

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McDonald would like to do an informal training so the teenagers know what to do in situations like C.J. and Morgan found themselves in.

“Minimal skills is better than no skills, is what this has taught me,” McDonald said.

The Harmony House is a state-funded, co-ed house for up to eight teenagers at a time. Those eight beds are currently full. McDonald said it’s the only house in the area that offers these services to youth, who come from all over the state.

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Information from: Idaho Press, http://www.idahopress.com