‘Stayin Alive’ with CPR in schools

November 12, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

If someone next to you were to suddenly fall to the ground and stop breathing, would you know what to do? Would your children or your neighbor’s children know what to do?

Most Americans would answer no. Less than a third of Americans say they know how to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – a simple lifesaving skill that in recent years has been made even simpler by the American Heart Association.

A bill signed into law last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would require schools in New York State to teach CPR and the use of automated defibrillators to all high school students before graduation.

The legislation is now in the hands of state Commissioner of Education John King, who has 180 days to make a recommendation to the state Board of Regents to include it in the curriculum.

New York joins 23 other states, including neighboring New Jersey and Vermont, that have enacted similar legislation. Nine other states have introduced legislation to require CPR training in schools.

As a New York State Certified Emergency Medical Technician who is active in numerous youth organizations, teaching CPR in schools seems to be a no-brainer.

I have taught first aid (including CPR) to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, some as young as 8- or 9-years-old, and the children pick up the skills quickly. They have fun humming the “Staying Alive” tune and understand the value of knowing a lifesaving skill.

Unfortunately, the number of children involved in organizations like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts is on the decline. A better way to reach the vast majority of youth is to teach CPR through schools.

Understanding that public schools have suffered the toll taken by unfunded mandates – the primary argument of CPR in Schools opponents – what requirement could be more worthwhile?

Consider it this way – how much is a life worth? If it were your son, your daughter, your wife, mother or father who suddenly went into cardiac arrest in a mall, on the sidewalk or in the school hallway, wouldn’t you hope someone close by knew CPR? Should you be ready to help?

A major problem

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 420,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) occur each year, and 88 percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen at home.

SCA occurs without warning, triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. When the blood pump is disrupted, the heart cannot move blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs, and death is imminent unless live-saving actions are taken.

According to Dr. Suzie Mookherjee, an Albany cardiologist and president of the Capital Region Advisory Board of the American Heart Association, only 11 percent of people who suffer SCA survive. However, “survival rate doubles or triples when CPR is performed” by someone nearby, she wrote in a letter to the editor published Oct. 11 in the Albany Times Union.

Minutes matter

To emphasize how quickly CPR is needed, consider this: Brain damage begins about four minutes after cardiac arrest unless CPR is started, according to Dr. Michael Dailey, medical director for the Regional Medical Organization (REMO) in Albany.

Six minutes after cardiac arrest, brain damage is likely, and after just 10 minutes without CPR, a person is most likely brain dead.

CPR made easy

The American Heart Association, the driving force behind the CPR in Schools legislation nationally, has changed the guidelines for CPR dramatically in recent years, making CPR even easier to learn.

For the past four years, Hands-Only CPR has been promoted as an immediate, two-step lifesaving skill for teens or adults who suddenly collapse.

Hands-Only CPR is CPR without mouth-to-mouth breaths. According to the American Heart Association’s Science Advisory, research shows that when a teen or adult “suddenly collapses with cardiac arrest, his or her lungs and blood contain enough oxygen to keep vital organs healthy for the first few minutes, as long as someone provides high-quality chest compressions with minimal interruption to pump blood to the heart and brain.”

According to the AHA, hands-only CPR performed by a bystander is effective in the first few minutes of an emergency, and people are more likely to step in to perform Hands-Only CPR than conventional CPR with mouth-to-mouth breaths.

Along with classroom training opportunities, the AHA also offers videos, mobile apps and online tutorials that offer concise and clear first aid and CPR instructions.

How to Give Hands-Only CPR

If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive” (Compress at least 100 times per minute). CPR can more than double a person’s chances of survival, and “Stayin’ Alive” has the right beat for Hands-Only CPR. Any attempt at CPR is better than no attempt.

When you call 911, stay on the phone until the 911 dispatcher tells you to hang up. The dispatcher will ask you about the emergency. They will also ask for details like your location. It is important to be specific, especially if you’re calling from a mobile phone that is not associated with a fixed location or address. Remember that answering the dispatcher’s questions will not delay the arrival of help.

Creating a safer New York

“By teaching students these critically important skills, we are giving them the tools to literally save lives,” Cuomo said after signing the CPR in Schools legislation. “I am proud to sign this bill into law because it is a common-sense way to improve the education of young New Yorkers and ultimately create a healthier and safer New York for all.”

In 23 years as an emergency responder in New York State, I have responded to dozens of cardiac arrest calls. I can count on one hand the number of times I have arrived at a call and a witness or someone nearby was performing CPR.

When CPR in Schools becomes a requirement in New York, I can imagine a situation where one of our children becomes a lifesaver, administering CPR until rescuers arrive.

Now, wouldn’t that truly be a life-altering lesson?

Learn more

Michael McCagg has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2003, previously serving as a state reporter and editor for daily newspapers and managing editor of a national magazine. A father of twin 14-year-olds, he is 23-year volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician and currently serves as Captain of his department. He is also involved in numerous youth organizations and teaches first aid and CPR to Boy Scouts and has taught the same to Girl Scouts in the past.

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