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A Michigan teacher was giving a virtual lesson when she heard a student's grandma slur her words. What she did next saved a life

Updated 10:23 PM ET, Fri October 23, 2020

(CNN) - A first-grade teacher at a Michigan elementary school is being hailed as a hero after alerting the school principal that her online student's grandmother was having a stroke.

Julia Koch was teaching her virtual learning class at Edgewood Elementary School on September 22 when she received a call from a grandparent who was having technical difficulties.

When Koch spoke to Cynthia Phillips, who was having trouble charging her granddaughter's school tablet, the teacher noticed something was off in the grandmother's voice.

"It was clear there was something very wrong. Her words were so jumbled, and I couldn't understand what she was trying to say," Koch told CNN. "She didn't sound like herself."

Worried that Phillips might be in danger, Koch immediately called Charlie Lovelady, the principal of the school in Muskegon Heights, who then got a staff member to call 911 while he spoke to Phillips on the phone.

"I noticed her speech was impaired, and I asked her if she was alright, and she was stumbling over her words and it was getting worse by the minute," Lovelady told CNN. "I knew the symptoms of a stroke because I lost my father from a stroke so I told her hold on and immediately got her help."

Even though an ambulance was on its way to Phillips, Lovelady asked two of his employees to drive to her house to check up on her and the young children under her care.

"I would have died if it weren't for the teacher being so quick and fast about getting me help," Phillips told CNN from her hospital bed.

"It made me so close to the staff and the principal, even the secretary who hurried to get me on the phone with the principal. They showed up at my house to make sure I'm OK," she said through tears. "I thank God I didn't die in front of my kids."

While she is still at the hospital, Phillips said she is slowly recovering.

"I am immensely proud of both Ms. Koch and Mr. Lovelady, their quick actions and the energy they have poured into relationships with students and families during this new way of education are making a significant positive difference in the lives of our students and their families," Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System Superintendent Rané Garcia told CNN.

'Being part of a community that cares'

Like many other teachers who are still adjusting to online learning, Koch has been working hard to make sure her students and their families feel comfortable in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

But her love for her kids goes far beyond teaching them math and writing through a computer screen.

"I don't think one can truly be a good teacher and not care about the students and their families. In the environment we're in especially, it's too hard to do this without actually truly caring," Koch said.

"Out of all this, what I've learned being part of a community that cares is so important. Paying attention to people and listening to them, always thinking of how to help. It's great to know I'm part of a team like that."

Lovelady said he is "blown away" by how quickly his staff worked together to save Phillips' life.

"I'm so proud of my team, it just shows that we have wonderful people here who didn't think twice about calling for help and jumping in the car to check on them," he said. "I'm a very, very proud principal."


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