The following story originally ran on AHA News June 1.
When Manny Medina was 16, he didn’t know or care much about emergency cardiovascular care as he walked into a CPR class at his high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“But then I pulled out the (defibrillator) pads and all of a sudden I felt like I was on TV on an episode of ER … I felt empowered to go into the medical field and help people,” said Medina, who’s now 31. “It turns out that one class changed the path of my entire life.”
Now a CPR instructor and teacher-trainer based in San Diego, Medina volunteers for American Heart Association, both as a teacher and a community spokesperson. “CPR training has always been very close to my heart,’’ he said. “I really want to help people, especially young people, make a difference.”
From June 1 – 7, the AHA celebrates National CPR and AED Awareness Week, an annual event designed to promote CPR and AED (automated external defibrillator) education and save lives. More than 350,000 people have cardiac arrests out-of-hospital every year in the U.S., but only 46 percent of them get the immediate help they need before professional help arrives. CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, especially if it’s performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.
Medina’s CPR class in high school inspired him to become a certified paramedic. But after a few years on the job, he developed a stress-induced seizure disorder, and his neurologist told him he should find a less-stressful occupation.
The news left him feeling “defeated” at first, Medina says. But as he transitioned from being a paramedic into a CPR instructor, he got excited about teaching people of all ages and backgrounds how to save someone’s life.
“Manny is extremely dedicated, and his positive energy is contagious,” said Alexander Gonzalez, a paramedic who mentored Medina. “He has a passion for learning as much as he can … he delivers the most exceptional education no matter what course he’s presenting.”
Today, Medina takes particular pride in teaching CPR in high-risk Latino neighborhoods.
“That statistic shook me to the core,” he said. “I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, and in that community, sometimes people don’t have the skills or the experience (to perform CPR), or they have language barriers that make it hard to call for help.”
Medina said he’s equally passionate about teaching CPR to young people. He’s in the process of setting up his own CPR training center geared toward youth, and he’s thrilled to see more U.S. states requiring CPR courses for high school students. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia now require CPR training to graduate high school.
“It’s exciting to see this whole new generation of people taking CPR classes. The millennials are embracing it — they really want to learn,” said Medina, who encourages his CPR students to download PulsePoint, a phone app that helps bystanders assist people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
“I try to teach them new ways of absorbing information,” he said. “I really want to empower kids at a young age and inspire them the same way that first CPR class inspired me. I want them to learn the skills so they can go out and have an impact on their community and make a difference – even if it’s only one time in their life.”