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Paramedics teach high school students hands-only CPR

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring California high schools to teach hands-only CPR training by 2018-2019

By Harold Pierce
The Bakersfield Californian

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Tristen Armstrong stood over a cold, lifeless body, her fists pressed over his ribcage as she pumped up and down. Her partner kept pace, coaching her along.

Push harder, two inches down, Myron Smith, a paramedic with Hall Ambulance, told Armstrong as a crowd of students formed around her at Frontier High School.

“If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll break ribs,” Smith said.

Armstrong didn’t want to hurt him. “Will he feel it?” she asked.

“He’ll be unconscious,” Smith said before Armstrong let up and took a seat.

“Harder than you think, huh?” Smith asked before grabbing the plastic mannequin and sliding it to another student.

That bit of drama, which played out Thursday, was just a simulation for Kern High School District students, but will become a regular part of health class curriculum for incoming freshmen starting next year.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year requiring California high schools to teach hands-only CPR training by 2018-2019. KHSD just received $25,000 worth of CPR training kits thanks to a donation from Chevron that will be used in every high school.

The energy company has been working with KHSD for two years on the initiative.

If Armstrong were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a classmate or teacher who had gone into sudden cardiac arrest, instead of a plastic simulator, that person’s chances at survival would have gone up dramatically, experts say.

Every year, more than 326,000 people go into cardiac arrest, but fewer than 10 percent live through the experience, Dr. Jared Salvo, president of the American Heart Association Kern Division board, said.

“You may be the only thing standing between life and death,” Salvo told students.

He pointed to Kenyati Thomeson, a 14-year-old boy whose life was saved at Chipman Junior High last month, as an example of how CPR training and defibrillator education pays off.

The new legislation creates a force of about 300,000 CPR-trained high school students against such lives being lost across the state in the first year, Salvo said.

After a few minutes of pumping, students at Frontier began to realize the difficulty of the process. You can’t stop chest compressions until a paramedic arrives, until a pulse appears or the victim wakes up, Smith said.

It’s something Hall Ambulance paramedics do about 40 or 50 times every month, Smith said, however the majority of those patients don’t survive.

“The key to chain of survival is early intervention,” Smith said. Somebody has to start CPR immediately. With thousands of new high school students learning the skill every year, the chances of somebody being around will be greater than ever.

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