Ten-thousand and counting. That’s the number of North Clackamas and Oregon City middle school and more than 500 high school students who have learned and taught hands-only CPR since last fall.

by: PHOTO BY: CINDY FREE-FETTY - Clackamas Fire EMS Officer Bill Conway trains students on proper use of the defibrillator machine used during cardiac arrest. It was a combined effort between middle school health classes, Clackamas Fire District personnel, Cascade Training Center and American Medical Response.

According to Rowe Middle School health teacher Paco Joanis, “There could not be a better way to get kids involved in their community. The idea last fall of these kids learning CPR and then going home and teaching it to others was amazing. Now that it has been such a success with over 10,000 people taught, it not only makes us proud as teachers, but it builds a new level of confidence in these kids. They know they can save a life!”

The program was designed by Clackamas Fire EMS Officer Bill Conway and Clackamas Fire Public Information Officer Brandon Paxton as an effort to teach as many people hands-only CPR as possible.

“There have been attempts in our Legislature to require that students are taught CPR, and while it seems like a viable mandate, it just doesn’t pass the government requirements,” Conway said. “So Brandon and I met with a curriculum developer with North Clackamas schools last year and came up with our own program, which includes all middle-school seventh- and eighth-grade students through their health classes.”

Using humor, candy rewards, and, of course, the “Stayin’ Alive” song, which coincides perfectly with the chest compression rhythms, Conway walks the students through a series of lessons and hands-on exercises.

“From an EMS standpoint,” he said, “we just don’t want people stopping the compressions. When these kids first learn, they are tired after 40 seconds compared to the five minutes it may take for a paramedic to arrive in a real-life scenario.”

The students are taught proper hand and body position to make the process less tiring. Following the training, each student also makes a commitment to teach at least three other friends or family members how to perform hands-only CPR, the newer and recommended way of saving lives.

Since 2008, the American Heart Association has been recommending exclusive use of hands-only CPR. Their website states, “nearly 310,000 Americans die annually from cardiac arrest that happens at home or in a public place, and only about a third of those people receive help from bystanders. This could be because they are afraid to initiate CPR for fear that they’ll do something wrong or won’t know what to do. Others may be reluctant to perform mouth-to-mouth breathing for fear of contracting an infection.”

“Hands-only CPR fulfills the most lifesaving goal which is the chest compressions,” Conway said. “If someone can keep the blood flow going until paramedics arrive, they can save the life. Mouth-to-mouth limits the beats per minute, and the consistent compressions without breaks in between are more effective.”

Joanis estimates that only about 15 percent of Rowe Middle School students coming into the program have had any CPR training, but by the time they leave the nearly 60-minute session, they not only know how to give CPR, but how to use a defibrillator as well. As the kids enter the gymnasium they receive a Family and Friends CPR Anytime box that includes a plastic mannequin, CPR Skills DVD, and several other tools needed for the course and the training.

Student Bryant Smith said that in a normal 60-minute timeframe you might find him wrestling, watching television or riding his BMX bike, “but it was cool to learn this and be able to know that if someone were in trouble I could give CPR.”

Arely Merino agrees. “It felt pretty good to take this course. In just 60 minutes. I feel like I can teach my parents and even my 8-year-old little sister how to do this, too.”

Following the training, each student is given a plastic firefighter’s hat and badge sticker as a symbol to remind them of their accomplishment, but the lifesaving stories are the true reward. According to Conway, there have been success stories directly related to the program.

“A dad in Happy Valley got a refresher from his child and then used CPR to save a woman in cardiac arrest,” he said. “The success stories are the best because this program is saving lives, but to have over 10,000 people taught in this time is also one of my proudest moments. I’d love to get all schools in our fire district involved. Thanks to grants and our partners like Cascade Training Center, who provided us with support and supplies, we will be able to teach a lot more students and can save a lot more lives.”

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