Saving Lives: Why CPR AED Training Matter

None of us expect the unexpected. With 10,000 cardiac arrests in the workplace every year, you should understand the benefits of CPR training.

By Gina Mayfield

When it comes to ensuring safe and healthful work conditions, we tend to focus on finding and fixing commonly recognized hazards such as clearly preventable injuries and illnesses. While these dangers certainly warrant our attention, what about expecting the unexpected, such as an employee experiencing a cardiac arrest outside the hospital? Is your workplace fully prepared for an incident that requires CPR or even a defibrillator?

June is CPR Awareness Month, with the first few days designated as National CPR and AED Awareness Week. Both occasions were designed to bring attention to the importance of CPR and AED training that organizations can provide to keep their employees safe, prepared to respond and…alive. Trained employees who can properly and quickly respond to an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest before emergency responders arrive can help save a life.

Cardiac arrest—an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and disrupts the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs—is a leading cause of death. Each year, more than 350,000 EMS-assessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Be Ready: CPR

When a person has an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately receiving CPR from someone nearby.

According to the AHA, about 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

But most U.S. employees are not prepared to handle cardiac emergencies at work because they simply lack the training, according to findings from two surveys from AHA as part of its Workplace Safety Training Initiative. Between February and April 2017, researchers surveyed 2,000 employees in various fields such as corporate offices, hospitality, education and industry/labor.

Study findings revealed that most employees do not have access to CPR and first aid training, and half could not locate an automated external defibrillator (AED) at work (helpful hint: place it in the same location as the fire extinguisher). Such training has the potential to save thousands of lives, considering there are 10,000 cardiac arrests in the workplace annually.

The second survey from OSHA and commissioned by AHA included more than 1,000 safety managers in industries regulated by OSHA. The safety managers see a need for more frequent training, but a third of them said first aid, CPR and AED training only become a priority at their workplace after a demonstrated need, meaning after an incident.

All of this data brings to light an important realization: Employees may be relying on untrained peers in the event of an emergency, which creates a false sense of security. Many may wrongly believe there is someone onsite who is qualified and able to respond, but that’s clearly not always the case.

Here’s the good news: The study shows that more than 90 percent of employees would take First Aid and CPR+AED training if employers offered it.

Save Lives: AED Awareness

Use of an AED is the third step in the cardiac arrest chain of survival, with the first two steps being a call to 9-1-1 and beginning immediate CPR.

During a cardiac arrest, the electrical activity in the heart is disrupted. According to the AHA, every second counts because without immediate CPR, the heart, brain and other vital organs aren’t receiving enough oxygenated blood. For every minute without CPR, the chance of death increases by 10 percent.

Survival from cardiac arrest doubles when a bystander applies an AED before emergency responders arrive, according to 2018 research published in AHA’s flagship journal, Circulation.

Unfortunately, less than half (45.7 percent) of cardiac arrest victims get the immediate help they need before emergency responders arrive, in part because medical services take, on average, between four and 10 minutes to reach someone in cardiac arrest.

An international team of researchers looked at 49,555 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests that occurred in major cities in the U.S. and Canada. They analyzed a key subgroup of these arrests: those that occurred in public were witnessed by bystanders, and the patients were shockable. The researchers found that nearly 66 percent of these victims survived to hospital discharge after a shock delivered by a bystander. Their findings emphasized that bystanders—or for our purposes, coworkers—make a critical difference in assisting cardiac arrest victims before emergency responders can get to the scene.

Be the Difference. It’s Simple.

If you want to be a part of a larger culture of safety in the workplace and are interested in getting CPR and AED training at work, it’s not difficult to do. Helpful resources from quality organizations such as AHA provide beneficial training.

For example, AHA’s Heartsaver First Aid CPR AED Training course teaches participants to provide first aid, perform CPR and use an AED in a safe, timely and effective manner. The course is designed for those with little or no medical training who want to be prepared for an emergency in any setting.

The course covers the basics such as first aid as well as medical, injury and environmental emergencies. But it also delves into preventing illness and injury, opioid-associated life-threatening emergencies, Child CPR AED and Infant CPR in addition to Adult CPR and AED use.

You’ll just need to decide what type of training works best for your team. You could go with a blended learning approach, such as AHA’s Blended Learning Heartsaver First Aid CPR AED Online class, which combines online instruction with a hands-on skills session.

Or you could opt for a Classroom Heartsaver First Aid CPR AED class, which is an instructor-led, hands-on class format in either a training center or your place of business. Both video-based, instructor-led courses teach students critical skills needed to respond to and manage an emergency until medical services arrive. The practice-while-watching technique allows instructors to observe the students, provide constructive feedback and guide the students’ learning of skills.

AHA also offers a CPR First Aid Anywhere Training Kit, a video-based kit that can be easily facilitated by anyone to train hundreds of individuals.

Know that in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, AHA has issued optional instructional changes to its training network for its Heartsaver courses.

In the Age of COVID-19: Hands-Only CPR

Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public, according to the AHA.

But in the age of COVID-19, rescuers are unlikely to have access to adequate personal protective equipment. Therefore, rescuers are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 during CPR, compared to healthcare providers with adequate personal protective equipment.

The AHA has issued interim guidance on how lay rescuers should perform Hands-Only CPR, if they are willing and able, after recognizing an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in an adult, especially if they are household members who have been exposed to the victim at home. AHA recommends a face mask or cloth covering the mouth and nose of the rescuer and/or victim may reduce the risk of transmission to a non-household bystander, such as a colleague at work.

Hands-Only CPR has two easy steps:

  1. Call 911 if you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse.
  2. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of a familiar song that has 100 to 120 beats per minute.

Song examples include “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira or “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. People feel more confident performing Hands-Only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct rate when trained to the beat of a familiar song. When performing CPR, the beat of the song examples above corresponds to pushing on the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.

Note that AHA still recommends CPR with compressions and breaths for infants and children and victims of drowning, drug overdose or people who collapse due to breathing problems.

To get a better sense of Hands-Only CPR, which is a natural introduction to CPR, you can watch a 90-section instructional video at heart.org/handsonlycpr. Then find a CPR class near you at heart.org/findacourse.

One last thing to keep in mind: In one year alone, 475,000 people die from cardiac arrest in the United States. While that’s a big number, it also presents a big opportunity. Consider being an organization that commits to proactively fostering a safe environment and empowers its people to take on a small social responsibility that can have a big impact at work, home and in the community as a whole.

Please note: The article was originally published in the June issue of Occupational Health & Safety magazine.


Teen saves his mom’s life using Hands-Only CPR he learned in school

Pictured above: Kristen Walenga

By Gina Mayfield

It was late August 2019, and Saturday morning in the Walenga household was off to its typical All-American start. Kristen Walenga sent her husband off to work and geared up for her team mom duties as she made breakfast for her four children. Her daughter Rose, 14, got ready upstairs for cheerleading pictures and her youngest sons, Sam, 11, and Nate, 9, ran around outside to burn some energy before their youth football game.

The family’s eldest child, Eddie, 15, was in the basement playing video games when he heard a loud crash coming from the kitchen above him, followed by screams for help from his younger brothers who had just come inside. Then the family pet, a certified therapy dog, started howling. That’s when Eddie realized this wasn’t a typical Saturday at all.

He raced up the basement stairs to find his mom in a heap on the floor, and his two little brothers standing there in disbelief. At first, they thought their mother was just playing around.

Eddie, who had taken a Hands-Only CPR class a few years earlier in middle school, quickly realized his mom wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.

His training immediately kicked in and he began chest compressions while little Nate ran to get help from a neighbor. The neighbor’s son, who happened to be visiting, was a former Army medic and ran straight for the Walenga’s kitchen where he found Eddie performing CPR like a champ.

In the midst of the chaos, Sam had the presence of mind to call 911. Paramedics arrived, continued CPR and administered four AED shocks. They got a pulse and transported Kristen to the hospital where, a couple of days later, they removed her from a ventilator. She woke up from a medically-induced coma with an internal defibrillator firmly implanted in her heart at the age of 45.

“So I had a sudden cardiac arrest,” Kristen says. “They were not able to find any reason for it. It’s ‘idiopathic,’ or unexplained. Their best guess is that it was stress induced. I was a full-time teacher, the school year had just started. We’re a very busy family, and I had been working a ton that week.”

Later, one of the paramedics told Kristen that she was very fortunate. “He said that I had so many good things fall into place. Of course, one being a ‘witnessed’ cardiac arrest. Two, having someone at home who could start CPR within a minute or two.”

After some time went by, Kristen sat down with Eddie and said, “How did you know this was the right thing to do? How did you react so quickly and know to start CPR?” Eddie said that even after a couple of years, a few things stuck in his head from that middle school health class, including that he couldn’t do more harm than what was already happening to his mother. Secondly, he recognized that Kristen wasn’t breathing normally, so he knew that meant to start CPR.

Since her cardiac arrest, Kristen has taken what she describes as a serious interest in CPR by taking classes, going through an instructor course and getting certified. As is the case with so many survivors, Kristen immediately felt that it was no accident she was left on this earth.

Being a teacher herself, she questioned why educators weren’t being trained in CPR. “It just seems like a no-brainer. CPR should be a basic skill that everybody has in their pocket.” But it isn’t … yet. “We have several in-service classes that we have to do at the beginning of every school year. We have to know how to administer an EpiPen, manage diabetes and ADHD – all of these really important things. But I can’t think of anything more important than just being able to administer Hands-Only CPR.”

So Kristen discovered her calling: Creating awareness around the American Heart Association’s CPR in Schools program. Schools often don’t know how time- and cost-effective the program can be, and it’s the mission of her foundation, Kristen’s Heart Beats, to change that.

In the end, Kristen went back to those middle school health teachers who made the Hands- Only CPR class happen after writing a grant to the American Heart Association for the CPR in Schools training. They now teach the class at the sixth, seventh and eighth grade levels, but they shared that they initially had some reservations about applying for the grant and teaching the course: How receptive would middle schoolers be? Were they too young? Would they remember it? Is this worthwhile, is it going to work?

But Kristen was living proof they made the right decision. She simply replied, “If you hadn’t written that grant, I wouldn’t be here today.”

This week is National CPR and AED Awareness Week, spotlighting how lives can be saved if more Americans know CPR and how to use an AED. Did you know about 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in homes? Learn more about how you could save the life of a loved one by learning CPR today.



Paramedic helps save newborn baby’s life

Pictured above: Kevin Thomas holding Sophia Ruth Smith.

Paramedic Kevin Thomas was close to ending his overnight shift in the early morning of February 2016  when he received one last emergency call for the day: a pediatric cardiac respiratory arrest in Pearl River, a New Orleans suburb.

The emergency involved a newborn baby named Sophia Ruth Smith, who was only six hours old and suffered a cardiac arrest after a home birth delivery.

As the ambulance sped to the scene 13 miles away, Kevin’s thoughts raced in his mind as he reviewed the steps he’d need to take to treat Sophia. It was his first pediatric cardiac arrest call.

“I don’t remember the drive to the house,” said Kevin, who works for Acadian Ambulance. “All I remember is being nauseated. Just that feeling of you’re going to have a child’s life in your hands. You just feel sick to your stomach.”

When the ambulance arrived at the home, the fire department was already on the scene. Sarah, Sophia’s mother, said her husband had been doing CPR on his daughter whose skin had turned blue. Kevin immediately provided aid to Sophia.

“He was on it from the moment he came into the house and took over the chest compressions and took over the CPR,” Sarah said about Kevin’s assistance. “He didn’t skip a beat.”

Sophia had a pulse, but she was having problems breathing. Kevin and his EMT immediately put a bag-valve mask on Sophia to deliver oxygen to her lungs to help her breathe and started an IV.

A helicopter ambulance had already been called to transport Sophia to the hospital, but Kevin realized that there was no time to wait for the helicopter. Sophia needed to get to the hospital immediately.

Sarah remembered how Kevin advocated for Sophia to be taken to a nearby hospital by an ambulance ride instead of a helicopter.

“He knew there was not time to get her to the helicopter and transfer her to the hospital,” she said.  “I remember he was on the phone with different hospitals because they didn’t want to take her. He fought and fought to get her to one close by.”

Sophia was rushed to a hospital via ambulance ride. Her prognosis was bleak. Sarah said Sophia suffered major organ failure and brain damage. The doctors told Sarah and her husband to let Sophia go, as she would be in a vegetative state and have no quality of life.

Fortunately, Sophia defied the odds and survived. She is now four years old.

“I look at her today and thank goodness that we followed our faith and that we didn’t make that choice,” Sarah said. “That we didn’t make the decision. That we left it up to God and his will and his way.”

Sarah describes her daughter as an outgoing, loving child who has a smile that lights up a room. Sarah said Sophia is nonverbal, but she communicates so well just who she is.

Sophia Ruth Smith

“She’ll let you know what she wants,” Sarah said.  “She is extremely independent. We have nine kids. We treat her like the other kids. I think that has helped with her development and her getting to the point she is today.”

Sarah said Kevin’s experience the day that he responded to the emergency call and provided treatment to Sophia made a difference.

“His experience was what we needed for her to be here today,” she said.  “When we left the hospital, her doctor over at Ochsner Baptist, the head doctor of the NICU, said there is no scientific reason why your daughter should be alive today. She was that bad. She was that sick. It was their (emergency responders) quick response and everything he did.”

Sarah will not forget how Kevin called the hospital after the incident to talk to the nurse to make sure that Sophia survived.

“God put the right people right where they needed to be,” she said. “Kevin will always have a huge place in our hearts forever.”

Kevin keeps in touch with Sarah and sees Sophia’s progress through a Facebook group that her mother started.

“l look at her Facebook page all the time because her mom posts a lot of things on the page because of her progression,” he said.  “She had a low chance of survival. And here she is four years old.”

Kevin began his career as an EMT with Acadian in 2004. He later earned his paramedic certification and now serves as a Critical Care Paramedic. His EMT training was based on American Heart Association guidelines. He was recognized as a finalist for Acadian Ambulance Paramedic of the Year for the Northshore region of the New Orleans area in 2018.

Kevin said he feels like he’s a savior for his community of Slidell, as he works to protect safety and health. He said EMS personnel provide pre-hospital care and can be the difference between life and death.

“They are special people who always put themselves in danger to help the ones in need,” Kevin said.


School nurse and staff perform CPR and use AED to save co-worker’s life

School nurse Haley Pepper was about to snack on a donut in her office the morning of Sept. 20, 2019 when she heard a plea for help at Gateway Science Academy South, the elementary school where she worked in St. Louis.

“I’m hearing somebody scream, ‘Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!” she recalled.

When she stepped out in the hallway, she saw the school’s vice principal of operations, Mehmet Okay,  who yelled to follow him. She tossed the donut through the doorway toward her desk,  ran after Mehmet and followed him downstairs to his  office.

The school’s custodian was lying motionless on the sofa in Mehmet’s office. He was not breathing. The custodian had been eating an apple while chatting with Mehmet when his head suddenly drooped. Haley would later learn that he had suffered a heart attack.

Haley shook the custodian and checked his pulse. Erkan Bayer, who is the school’s technology teacher, had also just walked into the office. Haley immediately started giving out orders to get assistance.

Erkan ran to get the AED equipment while Mehmet called 911. Haley, who has a bad back, also quickly realized she would need a stronger person to lift the custodian from the sofa and lay him flat on his back on the floor.

“I remembered the gym was nearby,” she said. “ I ran to the gym, scanned the room and got the P.E. teacher. I said ‘I need help. Follow me.’

P.E. teacher, Kenyon Klousia, and two other staff members had moved the custodian onto the floor just as the AED arrived. CPR was soon started while Erkan was on the phone with dispatchers who were also giving instructions on the emergency response.

As they performed CPR, Haley said she had no idea if the custodian had choked on his apple or something else had stopped his heart and breathing.

“We had to check carefully if our breaths were going in, and a few times there was apple pieces in his mouth that had to be cleared away,” she said.  “So, we were constantly reassessing to make sure we were doing the right thing.”

Only three-and-half-minutes had passed by the time they started to use the AED and administered the first of two shocks. When paramedics arrived, the custodian was breathing and his pulse had returned.

“It was probably 15 minutes all around from the time we called 911 and by the time he was carried out to the hospital,” Haley recalled.

A week later, the custodian called the school to say hello as he recovered. Haley said she isn’t a runner, but she bolted to greet the custodian when he returned to the school weeks later to visit.

“I sprinted to go give him a hug when he came back to visit that day,” she said. “He started crying. I apologized for his sore ribs.”

As Haley reflects on the turn of events on Sept. 20, she said it was easy to make those decisions such as to call 911 and to get the custodian flat on his back. She said the hardest decision was realizing that she would need to do CPR on her friend.

“This isn’t something where I’m just putting a band-aid on someone,” she said. “This is serious…This just happened to my friend. Coming to grips with the fact that this is the  problem was a hard decision.”

She is grateful that Kenyon was nearby to assist. They both had participated in CPR and AED training together that was developed by the American Heart Association (AHA) and provided by CPR Plus, an AHA Community Training Center.

“I couldn’t have grabbed a better person than the P.E. teacher,” she said.  “I just thought I needed somebody strong to lift him off the couch.  He was amazing. We both remembered our steps from training. We both remembered what each other would be doing.”

Haley has performed CPR before. But she never expected that she’d need to perform the life-saving skill that September morning as she took a break to eat a snack when there were no children in the clinic.

“It was the last thing on my mind that one of my staff members was going to have an emergency at work,” she said.