Gwinnett County Public Schools bus drivers Cindy Johnston, Sandy Purcell and Dee Walls always thought if they ever had to use CPR during work hours, it would be to save a student.

“All the drivers here are (CPR) certified for the kids on the bus, so that’s where you think you’re going to use it,” Johnston said. “You think maybe even a student in a class — you don’t think you’re going to use it on a coworker.”

The trio, all of whom also teach CPR to the district’s bus drivers, recently learned differently, however, when they were called on to save fellow bus driver Felina Cannon.

On Thursday, the women were recognized for their quick thinking and acting, which doctors later said ultimately made the difference between life and death for Cannon.

“I thank God that they were there at the right time — that it was the right people at the right time, because they saved my life,” Cannon said Thursday. “They’re never at the Hurricane Shoals (training center), so for them to be there that day, it’s breathtaking. Those same three ladies taught me CPR, and they’re the ones who saved my life.”

The July 29 events unfolded quickly for Johnston, Purcell and Walls, who had just concluded a Department of Transportation meeting when a supervisor requested their help.

“We’re in (a room) discussing our agenda and our supervisor comes by saying, ‘Go down the hall, someone’s having a seizure, go see if you can help,’” Johnston said. “We went running down the hall, and when we got there, (Cannon) was slumped in a chair, and you could see that she was unresponsive. We got her on the floor as fast as we could, and Cindy started the compressions, Dee was holding her head and I was instructing people to help (Cannon) on the floor. As soon as we got her on the floor, though, you could see she wasn’t with us. There was no second-guessing.”

Johnston, Purcell and Walls performed CPR for at least 14 cycles, or about five minutes, before paramedics arrived, who then took over.

But Cannon, who doctors and paramedics later said clinically died — Cannon said doctors still aren’t sure what caused the seizure, as she doesn’t have any health problems — still had to be shocked twice before she was stable enough to be transported to the hospital.

“They worked on her for a very long time, because she was dead,” Johnston said. “When they left, they came and got me, and that’s when I lost it, when they said they found a faint pulse. I knew she was in serious trouble when they stayed on location for so long.”

Walls echoed Johnston, saying she didn’t know if Cannon was going to make it.

“When they said she had a pulse, we all busted out crying,” Walls said. “You just don’t know. When we train for CPR, everybody’s always talking about how it hurts their knees being down on the floor, but you don’t even think about any of that. You don’t even hesitate.”

Cannon said that lack of hesitation is what kept her alive, so she could see her daughter and granddaughter again.

“To know that they were there at the right time, I thank God for that,” Cannon said. “I know now God is working miracles.”

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.