Teach Your Children Well


- Guest Blogger, Eric Rothenberg

We know CPR saves lives. Recent studies have shown that CPR can double the survival rate from a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). The math is clear: When more people receive CPR, more people live. Yet only about 1/3 of the nearly 360,000 annual cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR. We can do better.

It is with these encouraging but sobering statistics that the AHA and a group of passionate advocates have been lobbying the Washington State Legislature (and state lawmakers nationwide) to require CPR training in our high schools. Our efforts to this point culminated with a public hearing before the House Committee on Education on February 15 to consider House Bill 1556 – “Creating initiatives in high school to save lives in the event of cardiac arrest.”

Four of us presented brief testimony to the committee: Graham Nichol, M.D., UW Medicine; Darla Varrenti, Executive Director, Nick of Time Foundation; Tori Sorenson, SCA survivor; and myself, also a survivor.

Graham laid out the clear medical case for CPR training. Darla discussed how the Nick of Time Foundation provides free CPR training (and youth heart screenings) in WA high schools each month, training up to 500 students in a day. Darla focused on the CPR training piece so she didn’t mention how Nick of Time is potentially saving lives through their free heart screenings, uncovering heart defects and abnormalities in otherwise healthy students. (Read more about their great work here and see how you can get involved.)

Tori talked about her experience as a healthy, athletic college student at Gonzaga who, without warning, dropped from SCA while playing intramural basketball. CPR and an AED saved her life. Over the past few months Tori worked on a survey of WA high schools regarding CPR and AED. Of the schools that responded, nearly 60% reported to already include some form of CPR training in school. This is a great number but we know we can do better. Should be easy enough to get the other 40% on board, right?

I told my story of playing tennis in September 2009 when, also without warning, my heart went into fibrillation from sudden cardiac arrest. I’m alive due to the fast actions of a few guys playing on nearby courts and the AED the club had purchased less than a year earlier. I also related to the committee an anecdote my teenage sons told me earlier that day: Of all the things they were taught in high school health class (yes, our school district includes CPR training in middle school and high school health), CPR is one of the things they remember and found worthwhile. I’m confident that if the time comes they would feel well prepared to jump in and perform CPR to save a life.

We throw a lot of knowledge at our high school students these days, perhaps overwhelming them with information in an attempt to prepare them for college and their next stage in life, but relatively little of the details stick beyond the semester’s final exam. High school is about preparing students for life and is full of life lessons, both in and out of the classroom. We should include a lifesaving lesson and teach all students CPR.

I’m happy to report the effort is gathering momentum and that just this week the Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education voted unanimously to move the bill forward. That’s a unanimous vote in the full committee and a unanimous vote in the subcommittee… So if I remember my Schoolhouse Rock and How a Bill Becomes a Law I believe now it goes on to the Rules Committee and then to the House floor for a vote before the Senate takes up the issue. 

Special thanks to Lucy Asdourian, our wonderful Sr. Government Relations Director from the AHA, for providing steady guidance and working tirelessly with the legislators and members of the committee to move this bill forward.

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