NAUGATUCK — Nathan Rivera knew something was wrong with the driver of school bus 8, a woman students affectionately call “Rosie,” one March morning as she drove toward Naugatuck High School from the east end of town.
The driver, Rose Pereira of Naugatuck, was coughing the entire ride. After turning onto the Route 8 ramp from the Union City neighborhood, she pulled the bus over, in the throes of an asthma attack.
“I could tell she wasn’t breathing right,” said Rivera, 17, a senior at the high school. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
What happened next caused the Board of Education and Student Transportation of America, its bus company, to recognize Rivera and 17-year-old Nick Kosa, a junior, Thursday night for saving Pereira’s life.
Having parked the bus, Pereira was trying to radio to STA’s dispatch center for help, but her inability to breathe made her incoherent, said Ron Tymula, manager of the bus company’s borough facility.
Rivera went to the front of the bus and “very calmly” told the dispatcher what was happening, Tymula said. Kosa followed, opening the door of the bus to let more air in. Then Kosa took over the radio while Rivera, who is CPR trained and works for Seymour Ambulance, tilted Pereira’s head to open her airway and kept her talking so she wouldn’t lose consciousness.
Police and an ambulance soon arrived to take Pereira away, and another school bus to complete the trip to the high school. Pereira had pulled the bus so close to the guard rail that students could not get out the front door, so Kosa and Rivera assisted in evacuating students out of the emergency exit in the back of the bus, Tymula said.
“I was nervous,” Kosa said of the ordeal.
Tymula presented the teens with a plaque at the Board of Education’s meeting Thursday to a standing ovation from the dozens in attendence.
Pereira has been the teens’ bus driver all through high school. She hugged the teens Thursday and called them her “heroes.”
“I owe my life to them,” she said.
Years ago, Rivera was among the children Pereira drove to Maple Hill Elementary School, she said.
“I drove him when he was in elementary school, and now he’s my hero in high school,” she said.