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On a mission

Valley Catholic teams up with TVF and R for life-saving challenge
by: Christopher Onstott Valley Catholic eighth-grader Mitchell Franck demonstrates Hands-Only CPR during an assembly Monday afternoon to launch a unique public education campaign by students.

Valley Catholic eighth-graders are heading into Thanksgiving celebrations empowered.

They are on a crusade to save lives.

Armed with knowledge and special CPR kits, all 75 eighth-graders have been charged with a mission to train at least five adults on how to provide Hands-Only CPR.

Sierra Kizzier, 13, plans to teach her parents, aunt, uncle and 24-year-old cousin the life-saving skill.

'If someone has a heart attack and you know CPR, it can save lives,' the young leader said. 'My grandpa died of a heart attack five years ago, and my dad really misses him.'

Like other eighth-graders, she is excited to be part of a unique partnership between Valley Catholic School, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and the American Heart Association. It's the first program of its kind in Oregon and allows students to play an important role in raising awareness about Hands-Only CPR.

'Our department responds to over 1,800 cardiac events each year, and having someone ready and willing to initiate CPR before our paramedics arrive can mean the difference between life and death for a patient,' said TVF and R Fire Chief Mike Duyck.

Several years ago, the AHA acknowledged that Hands-Only CPR - pressing hard and fast on a victim's chest until paramedics arrive - works just as well as traditional CPR for adults in sudden cardiac arrest.

'Survival rates nationally are bleak for cardiac arrest patients,' added Karen Eubanks, fire district spokeswoman. 'Only 5 percent live to be discharged from the hospital.

'In Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue's service area, we exceed the national average. Over the last three years, we have averaged between 11 and 23 percent survival rates for witnessed cardiac arrest calls. We know we can do better.'

With Hands-Only CPR, bystanders do not need to worry about providing mouth-to-mouth safety breaths, she added.

'By simply calling 911 and pushing hard and fast on the patient's chest until emergency responders arrive, our survival rates can increase dramatically,' Eubanks said.

Firefighters stopped by the middle school Monday afternoon to take part in a special assembly and distribute American Heart Association's Family and Friends CPR Anytime Kit, which includes a short instructional DVD and a mini, blow-up Resuci-Annie to teach Hands-Only CPR.

Eighth-grader Mitchell Franck, 14, who is interested in a law enforcement career one day, assisted in a live demonstration during the assembly.

'I'm excited to work with the professionals,' he said of the opportunity to help the fire district spread the word about Hands-Only CPR. 'I think it's interesting.'

During Thanksgiving break he and his peers will get the chance to put their knowledge, public speaking and presentation skills to work with an audience they are comfortable with.

'This is the perfect timing, as families get together,' said Herb Lommen, a physical education and health teacher who leads the department for Valley Catholic's middle and high schools. 'Our students will have a large audience.'

Following that, students will train five more adults on the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon campus in Beaverton.

'After those two steps, an elite squad of students with the highest scores and most interest will be chosen to go out into the greater Tualatin Valley community to lead sessions,' added Jennifer Gfroerer, principal of the middle school. 'Students really want to be part of the lead team.'

Tomas Ramirez, 14, joins Kizzier and Franck in already securing coveted spots on the elite squad. Throughout the school year, this team of young leaders will venture out to train city leaders, Oregon Food Bank staff, local businesses and organizations interested in learning Hands-Only CPR.

'This is a good experience for us,' Ramirez said. 'We are learning how to talk to people in a crowd.'

He is already making plans to offer a training at his church, St. Pius X Catholic Church in Cedar Mill, where he plays drums in the choir.

'I'm a really social person,' he admitted.

Seeing the students' enthusiasm in providing this service and answering the fire district's call to action is heartening to Gfroerer and Lommen.

'We like our classes to have real-world implications,' Gfroerer said. 'This partnership fell right into three areas of our curriculum including the service component of religion, health and English.

'This is the perfect opportunity for our students to gain practical experience. It all aligns. We were just thrilled with the opportunity to enhance our program, take it to the next step and be of service to the community.'

Lommen agreed.

He has been teaching students regular CPR for 11 years on the campus. This is his first year teaching hands-only as well. Valley Catholic students leave middle school certified by the American Red Cross in infant, child and adult CPR, first aid and proper use of an AED. Students in the high school also receive instruction in their sophomore year.

'I'm excited that they get to go out, show their skills and really use their knowledge,' Lommen said. 'Our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of deaths related to heart issues in the emergency room.'

Valley Catholic is serving as the pilot site for what the fire district hopes to expand to other schools in its service area, Chief Duyck said. The school is putting together lesson and action plans that will be easily adaptable to rolling out similar programs in other schools.

'We are thrilled about this partnership and the prospect of saving even more lives,' Duyck said. 'It's been phenomenal.'