Students at Dorchester’s Boston College High School are taught early on that they should strive to “be an upstander, not a bystander.” Ryan McWade, a senior at the Jesuit school, took that core tenet to heart last month when, acting quickly and boldly, he helped to save the life of a man who was overdosing from an opioid at Town Field in Dorchester.
The 17-year-old Quincy resident volunteered this summer as a youth counselor at All Dorchester Sports and Leadership, a non-profit based in Fields Corner. He was working with kids at Town Field on Aug. 10 when another volunteer noticed a man lying— apparently unconscious and not breathing— on a nearby hill in the park. “It happened so suddenly,” McWade said.
Upon seeing the motionless body and people standing around, he sprung into action, shouting for someone to call 911 while moving to start CPR on the man. Although he had not been formally trained in CPR, McWade continued his efforts for 10 minutes, keeping the victim alive until EMTs arrived and treated him with Narcan. The entire episode was over within 15 minutes.
“I got upset that no one else was willing to step up,” explained McWade. “I felt so bad for that man.”
ADSL director Candice Gartley said McWade displayed great poise and maturity throughout the incident. “When he returned to sign out for the day, he was very concerned by the fact that so many other people were standing there, but no one stepped up to help,” Gartley said. “I was anticipating more of an overwhelmed young man – not one who felt outraged at the lack of response.”
McWade said he had learned the basics of performing CPR from online instructional videos. He hopes the story will raise awareness about the opioid epidemic that is gripping many parts of the country.
“This was my first encounter with something like that,” he said. “and I think it was a wake-up call that there are people dealing with this crisis who need help.”
McWade is humble on the subject of his heroism, redirecting praise toward his teachers, classmates, and family. “I’ve been fortunate to always be surrounded by good people who try to do the right thing,” he said.
Mayor Marty Walsh, who heard about McWade’s actions this week, issued a statement praising the student: “I commend Ryan on his tremendous efforts and incredible acts of courage to assist this person. Nothing makes me more proud as mayor than to shine a light on the everyday heroes of our community who step up and do what’s right, because that’s who we are as a city.”
Gartley said the situation was yet another example of BC High students making a difference in the community. “We also partner with some area colleges and universities, but hands down, the BC High students are the most reliable and well prepared,” she said.
“BC High is filled with people who do so many great things, whether academically or athletically,” said McWade who was honored by the BC High community during a school-wide Mass and assembly last week.
“I had never won an award like that before, ” he said, “but it was great to be recognized. In my case, it wasn’t a school or sports-related thing. It was a human thing.”
McWade never learned the man’s name, but he still thinks about him. “I would love to talk to the guy, to see if he’s okay,” he said.