Teaching hands-only CPR is a life-saver 

On Sept. 18, 2011, I died. Technically died. My heart stopped beating when I had a sudden cardiac arrest. Fortunately, there were two women who witnessed my collapse and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on me. Both learned CPR as teenagers. They are wonderful women who saved my life.

I share my story as one of the 10 percent of people who have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital and survived. That's right: Incredibly, 90 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims die. Given those stats, it is no surprise that I am a firm believer in teaching teens hands-only CPR. When a sudden cardiac arrest happens, victims have up to five minutes to receive emergency medical treatment before they are at risk for brain injury. According to the American Heart Association, when trained bystanders administer CPR until emergency responders arrive, a victim's chances of survival can double or even triple.

Hands-only CPR is a life skill that simply uses chest compressions and does not require mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Learning this skill, which takes less than one class period — just 30 minutes — would reduce the number of individuals and families impacted by sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 killer in San Francisco. The San Francisco Unified School District is in a unique position to improve community health outcomes by training the next generation of lifesavers. Commissioner Matt Haney, vice president of the school board, and Commissioner Sandra Fewer, the former president, are now working to introduce a resolution that would provide access to this training for all high school students. The SFUSD would be the first and largest public-school district in California to include this training in the curriculum. Training our students in hands-only CPR takes about 30 minutes. To date, 20 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, have made changes to their curriculum to include hands-only CPR. It is time for San Francisco — and all of California — to join these states.

CPR training is a health equity issue. We know that there are cultural barriers to calling 911: fear of having a police car parked in front of your home, fear that someone with insecure immigration status in your home will be exposed or fearing an adversarial relationship with emergency responders all build a reluctance to call for help. Students could also serve as a conduit to monolingual families and help alleviate such concerns.

Hands-only CPR is a low-cost, high-impact initiative and should be a mainstay of health education. Training thousands of students each year in CPR will go beyond the classroom and build community capacity to respond to emergencies. Implementing hands-only CPR training as a component of the curriculum will make our communities safer. Teen students who learn CPR would become lifesavers. Just like the women who saved me, students will be equipped with a life skill and be ready for an emergency.

Mike Ryan is a board member of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association of San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

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