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Teens to the Rescue! Tampa Bay Juniors Learn CPR in Schools

Every year in the United States, more than 356,000 people suffer a heart attack outside a hospital. When 49-year-old Steve Ryan became one of that number, he was fortunate that he had his very own superhero by his side—his daughter, Kaitlin, then 15.

When her father collapsed during one of their regular after-dinner golf course outings, Kaitlin began manual chest compressions immediately, drawing upon middle school cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid lessons she had been taught. Her mother (a nurse) and the emergency technicians arrived soon after and rushed him to the hospital, where he learned that he had had a major cardiac event.

Now, all Florida high school graduates will be taught this skill that could help them save a life. This year, Florida became the 39th state to pass a bill requiring school districts to provide basic training in first aid, including CPR instruction, for all public-school students in grades 9 and 11. School districts are also encouraged to provide the same training to students in grades 6 and 8.

As it is now a graduation requirement, the focus is presently on juniors. Hillsborough County School District has partnered with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and the BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety Center to provide this training to all juniors throughout Hillsborough County.

BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety Specialist Michelle Sterling, who is leading the program, said that in most emergency situations, CPR is performed by bystanders with no medical background. Those hands-only compressions play a vital role in keeping oxygenated blood flowing through the body, which can save a life while waiting for medical professionals to arrive.

“It could happen to anyone,” says Sterling. “Anything you can do while you’re waiting for the paramedics to arrive is going to be helpful to that person.”

When Sterling’s teams go to area schools, they will bring along mannequins for the students to practice their compressions on. Students will be taught basic first aid skills. They will also learn how to use an Automated External Defribrillator (AED)—and learn how to identify the cases in which they are stored in public places.

Sterling said teens will also be taught how to assess a scene carefully prior to intervention so the rescuer does not inadvertently become the victim. For example, teens shouldn’t pull out a drowning victim if they can’t swim or enter a situation if there are downed power lines involved.

Although these classes do not result in certification, they will serve as good revision material for those who are keeping up certifications, which must occur once every two years.

If any parents are inspired by their children’s new knowledge and want to participate, they can sign up for a CPR class themselves. The classes are taught by BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety experts and held at Children’s Board Family Resource Centers located throughout Hillsborough County. Registration is required. Please contact your local Children’s Board and Family Resource Centers to register.

As for Ryan, he survived his cardiac arrest and is healthy today. All students will see him and Kaitlin in a video during their classes.

*Presented by BayCare | Originally Published in November 2021

Anu Varma Panchal
Anu Varma Panchal
Associate Editor Anu Varma Panchal has a master’s degrees in journalism and more than 15 years of experience writing and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Iowa and Florida. She has lived in Florida for more than 10 years, and enjoys raising her two daughters in Tampa Bay. When Anu isn’t writing or editing for area publications, she’s busy driving her kids to all their music and dance activities. She volunteers regularly in her daughters’ schools and Parent Teacher Associations, and spent a wonderful two years immersed in local history as a volunteer in the Tampa Bay History Museum’s Collections department. Although her idea of the ultimate good time is usually found between the pages of a book, Anu also enjoys yoga, her book club, travel, theater and area food and music festivals.

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