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Heart association pushes for mandatory CPR in Florida schools

Published Feb. 5, 2015

If you saw someone collapse, would you know what to do?

Probably not. According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of us either have no idea how to perform CPR, or wouldn't feel confident enough in our knowledge to attempt it.

Most of the time when someone's heart suddenly stops beating, they're at home, completely in the hands of those around them. Yes, you should call 911 immediately in such an emergency. But in the moments it takes for paramedics to arrive, hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation could make all the difference. The heart association says survivor rates could at least double if more people did CPR.

Eric Bell is living proof. It has been about a year since the Illinois man suffered chest pains and knew he needed to get to the hospital. He made it down the stairs of his home and collapsed.

As his wife Brigette called 911, his 17-year-old son Harry started the chest compressions he learned at school.

Eric Bell recovered, and the family lobbied for a law to require CPR training in all Illinois high schools.

"It seems like a no-brainer for all kids, to turn out generations of people who are trained in CPR," Brigette Bell told the Chicago Tribune.

Illinois' governor signed the bill into law last June. Now the American Heart Association's top priority in Florida's upcoming legislative session is to pass a similar law here.

Florida is now the only state in the Deep South that doesn't have this requirement, the group says.

Some might argue the public schools have too much to do, and that's a fair point. But all the heart association wants is one hour out of a four-year high school career, perhaps during phys ed or health class.

Just one hour for kids to lay their hands on a CPR mannequin and get a feel for just how hard and fast (think 100 in a minute) compressions need to be.

Just one hour to get over their fear so they can act quickly to save someone in a crisis.

"The worst thing you can do is stand and wait and look at each other thinking, 'What should I do?' " said Dr. Gul Dadlani, a pediatric cardiologist at All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Every minute that person sits, it's a minute that cells in their body are dying."

You can't get fully certified in just an hour, said Dadlani, who is a member of the heart association's Tampa Bay Metro Board. The short course is hands-only, omitting the breath component of standard CPR, which tends to make people especially nervous and afraid to act.

But it "at least breaks the barrier to put your hands on that mannequin," he said.

Important as it is to know what to do in an emergency, teaching CPR in high schools is part of an even larger mission.

"Florida as a state has the 44th worst outcomes for cardiovascular health," Dadlani said. "So by teaching CPR our hope is we can improve the overall health of the whole community."

Some kids do learn CPR at school or through youth organizations like scouting. But that's a pretty haphazard approach. And not all CPR classes include the all-important hands-on opportunity, Dadlani said.

It's little wonder just 30 percent of us feel competent to act. But for some Americans, the statistic is even worse.

A study in the journal Circulation found that people who live in lower-income minority neighborhoods are 50 percent less likely to receive CPR from a bystander than people in more affluent areas. Requiring CPR education in all public high schools could help address that inequality.

Though strides have been made in heart disease prevention and treatment, it remains the No. 1 cause of death in this country. It's hard to imagine a more worthy topic to tackle in high school.

And it's just one hour.