Through the efforts of the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance and a student advocate for the American Heart Association, last week hundreds of young people were added to the ranks of locals who know how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator.
For four days, Southampton High School physical education classes took a break from the regular curriculum and dedicated the classtime to learning the Heimlich maneuver, hands-only CPR, and how to use an AED, which delivers a shock to the heart.
Students practiced CPR on mannequins and participated in simulated emergency scenarios to test their First Aid know-how.
The CPR training was a first for Southampton High School, and sophomore Sarah Pierson hopes that New York State will soon make learning CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a requirement for all high school seniors before they graduate. As a youth advocate for the American Heart Association, Sarah lobbies in Albany and works in her community to raise awareness of the life saving technique.
Sarah is making a video of her fellow students' experiences in gym class. "It's really easy to learn and they're glad they are learning it," she said.
Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance CPR coordinator Frank Milza said he hopes the lessons "demystify" CPR for the students. Hands-only CPR, which emphasizes chest compressions rather than mouth-to-mouth, is the best technique for lay people to use, he said, and bystanders are more comfortable trying it.
Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance offers monthly hours-long classes for CPR certification, though Milza said the Southampton students, after an abridged lesson, now know enough to perform CPR effectively should they ever find themselves in that situation.
Milza said 95 percent of cardiac arrest patients do not receive bystander CPR, and Rick Fowler, an assistant chief of the ambulance corps, said CPR makes a world of difference, because the survival rate declines 10 percent for every minute without it.
Fowler said that even with a four-minute average response time in Southampton Village, when factoring in the time it takes to realize something is wrong and call 911, that is a long period for a patient to go without CPR.
"It's really important for kids to learn it," Sarah said, noting that heart disease in the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Fowler said knowledgeable bystanders are helpful even after an ambulance arrives. "Once we're there, they can still be a part of out team," he said.
The 10 ambulance volunteers who came out to the high school were not compensated — and some took time off work to do it.
Physical education teacher Tim Schreck has been CPR certified for 13 years. He said that teaching it now helps to learn it even better.
Schreck said he was happy to break with his curriculum for CPR lessons. "We find it really important and we're always looking for things like this," he said.
Fellow phys. ed. teacher Brian Tenety added, "The real goal is to put as much knowledge out there as possible," so students can give to the community and help others.
"They were all engaged, all really interested," Tenety said of the students during lessons, adding that, at this age, many have experienced tragedy. "It hits close to home, unfortunately."
"The event at SHS was incredibly special," said Terri Zenobio the American Heart Association's regional director for the youth market, who visited the high school during lessons. "To begin, the collaboration of all those involved and the commitment they each had to training the students in hands-only CPR was overwhelming."
Zenobio went on to say, "In a way, the students were given a call to action by learning the hands-only CPR techniques and the life-saving benefits of such, as well as the importance of volunteering and what it means to give back to a community with many of the ambulance corps as role models, having been graduates of SHS."
Robin Vitale, the senior director of government relations for the American Heart Association, said, “Thanks to the tremendous support of the Southampton Village Volunteer EMS, every student currently enrolled in physical education at Southampton High School is now armed and ready to respond to anyone who falls victim to a cardiac emergency.
Vitale pointed out that for the last nine years, students at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor have been taught CPR, and she said 16 lives have been saved as a result. "Imagine if every student in New York was trained just as Southampton students now are. If anyone is interested in supporting our efforts to promote this curriculum policy, please visit www.SupportCPRinSchools.org.”