MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (KMSP) - At first, they thought he was joking. Mitch Taraschi, who teachers Latin at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn. is known for his sense of humor. But, this was no joke.
“I was grading quizzes from an earlier class and my right hand all of a sudden did not do what I wanted it to do," Taraschi told Fox 9.
His students, a coed mix of kids from STA and neighboring Visitation School, were focused on taking their own quizzes, but turned to look when they heard him breathing heavy at his desk at the back of the classroom. But, for a few moments, the students wondered if he was just being silly.
"I had heard his heavy breathing, and I honestly thought maybe he was joking with us because that’s just who Mr. T is." Vinnie Motzel, an STA junior, said.
One of the students asked Taraschi if something was wrong. When his reply was slurred and his head dropped, they knew there was a problem. But, they were prepared to act because they had practiced for something very similar to what was happening. And, true to form, he kicked it off with humor.
“I jokingly last year told them you guys see the way I eat, I’m a heart attack waiting to happen.. so we’re going to practice a heart attack drill," Taraschi said.
Taraschi, it would turn out, was having a stroke. But, his students' preparation to act quickly and get help paid off and he was soon on his way to the hospital.
The five students involved in saving his life, Kelli Martin, Anne Marie Underwood and Maria Daly of Visitation, Tom Litecky and Vinnie Motzel of STA, were all awarded for their efforts with the rest of the STA student body standing in formation. They were each given a Life Saving Certificate, while Litecky and Motzel were also pinned with a military life saving ribbon.
“They deserve it, they deserve it,” says Taraschi. “They acted quickly and they did exactly what they should have done.”
“I mean we were kind of just going on instinct because when something like that happens you don’t really think about it,” Kelli Martin said. “We kind of just knew that we needed help, so we were all running around just trying to find adults, we knew we needed to call 911.”
Mitch Taraschi was back teaching only one week later, his quick and full recovery a testament to how quickly his students reacted. And when he returned, they had a gift: a special necktie with all their pictures on it.
Even though it was a stroke and not the heart attack he joked about, Taraschi says he’s eating better too.