Natalie Peters isn’t letting the fact that she’s already died twice mute her excitement for adulthood. The light pink scar above the Georgia native’s heart is the sole physical token of a past marred by two medical emergencies; she overcame both in time to graduate from high school.
If it hadn’t been for the Washington Academy of Arts and Technology, Peters’ story might have been one of disappointment rather than success. She smiles – even giggles – as she recalls her past four years as a student at three high schools.
“When you have to come to terms with the fact that you’ve been dead twice and you’re here, you’re still kicking it, (being lighthearted) is something that just develops over time,” Peters said. “You’ve got to joke about it, otherwise you’ll go crazy.”
Peters transferred from Gonzaga Prep to East Valley High School as a freshman. Her heart stopped the first time just before finals as she and about 20 other students returned from lunch. The instructor of the algebra class, Ryan Seidel, noticed the absent look on Peters’ face as she suddenly stood still amid the commotion.
“She fell from a standing position and slumped to the ground,” Seidel said.
Seidel, who is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with Fire District 4, rushed to Peters’ limp body before he sent for the nurse and dialed 911. Although it’s not unusual for students to faint, Seidel “could tell something significant” was happening.
In the 10 minutes it took for the medics to arrive, Peters’ heart had stopped beating. It took a defibrillator shock to bring her back to life.
“The whole process took probably about five to 10 minutes – but it felt like a half hour,” Seidel said.
Despite her condition, Peters said she remembers even the smallest details of the episode.
“Where the pads were, it burned, but on the inside of my body it just felt like warmth flooding through all my limbs – it was creepy,” she said. “They had to cut open my shirt because they had to get the (defibrillator) pads on, and I remember thinking, ‘Dang, this shirt’s new.’ I had literally just bought it the day before.”
Still unsure as to what exactly was wrong with her heart, Peters – whose mother had a similar episode when she was a teenager – returned to East Valley after a surgery that placed a loop recorder in her chest. But when her heart stopped again at the end of sophomore year, Peters decided to finish high school by taking online classes from the Washington Academy of Arts and Technology. A cardiologist said anxiety and stress were likely causes.
Although Peters is typically an introvert, she is one of two students to sit on the East Valley School Board.
“I think what motivates me is the idea that things are going to be better someday than they are now,” she said. “The idea of being independent.”
Peters hopes to go to Eastern Washington University to pursue a career in television screenwriting.
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