Little bit of courage goes long way when bus driver suffers heart attack

Published 12:05 am Sunday, January 29, 2023

Being small doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.

When an Overton Elementary School bus driver started having a heart attack on a December route, the oldest person besides that driver on the bus was only 9 years old, but that did not stop fourth-grader Riley Miclette from saving the day.

Rita Sturdivant has been driving the bus routes for Overton and Hurley elementary schools since 2011. On Dec. 6, she was not feeling great before starting her shift.

“I didn’t feel like going to work that day,” Sturdivant said.

She thought that if she could get through the morning routes, she would reassess the second half of the day.

While picking up students on East Horah Street, Sturdivant started feeling uneasy.

“My head started hurting really, really bad, and my chest started hurting really, really bad,” Sturdivant said. “I started praying because I didn’t know what was going on.”

Sturdivant pulled bus 212 over and turned on the hazard flashing lights. There were only six students on the bus at that time.

“I said, Riley, come here please,” Sturdivant said.

She may have been young, but Sturdivant said Riley was always “responsible” and had “never been disrespectful.”

“I called her to the front and said, ‘Riley, do you know how to operate the radio?’ ” Sturdivant said. “Ms. S is sick, and I can’t go any further.”

Miclette was unsure how to operate the radio, but Sturdivant guided her.

“Pick it up, hold that button in and ask for Overton,” Sturdivant said. “I want you to say this is bus 212 to Overton. When they get on, they will know that bus 212 needs help on East Horah Street.”

Riley did as she was instructed but was unsuccessful in radioing Overton Elementary, so Sturdivant handed over her cell phone and told her to call Overton Elementary Principal Marae Reid, who did answer. Riley informed the principal what was happening, and then she called Sturdivant’s daughter.

Reid and Sturdivant’s daughter arrived on the scene at about the same time.

“My daughter was trying to take me to my car,” Sturdivant said. “I was so scared because I was worried about my kids on the bus, but I told my daughter to let me go back and tell Riley something. I said, ‘Riley, please watch out for my kids for me.’ She said, ‘Ms. S, I will, and you go on so you can get some help.’”

In hindsight, Sturdivant remarked that she does not know what she would have done without Riley.

“She was so much help to me,” Sturdivant said. “It wasn’t easy. She was very afraid, but she did everything that I told her to do.”

Reid added, “What is so heartwarming and to let you know the caring person that Riley is, Riley was working to keep Ms. Sturdivant calm.”

When the bus did not move, a parent came and got three of the students, leaving just three on the bus.

“Riley took it upon herself to not only care for Ms. Sturdivant but to make sure that the other students were OK as well,” Reid said. “She stayed calm, she was nurturing and supporting, and Ms. Sturdivant gives great credit to Riley for helping her through.”

During Monday’s Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education meeting, Riley was recognized for her courage.

As for Sturdivant, she remains in recovery. The 72-year-old is happy to report that her rehab at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center is going well.

“I’d like to shout out to Novant Health, Heart and Vascular Institute,” Sturdivant said. “They did an excellent job on me.”