Family Tragedy Inspires Woman to Become CPR Instructor

Kathy and her sister the day before Genny passed.

By Gina Mayfield

On Saturday, July 3, 2021, Kathy Simpson and her sister, Genny, spent the day celebrating the upcoming Fourth of July holiday with family and friends. The next evening, the two sisters decided to spend a quiet evening in their pajamas, snacking on leftovers from the party and watching Netflix at Genny’s apartment. “There was no indication that anything was wrong. Absolutely nothing,” Kathy says.

Just as the movie ended, Genny got up and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Kathy heard a loud crash. “The next thing I knew I was running so fast and saying, ‘Are you okay?’” Kathy says. She was met with silence. “I think I jumped over the couch. I just got this really weird feeling that something tragic had happened,’” she says. “I opened the bathroom door and Genny’s on the floor. She was unresponsive.”

Kathy frantically banged on neighbors’ doors while screaming for help. “Nobody came. Nobody opened their door. I knew time was crucial,” she says, having remembered a CPR class she had taken decades earlier. She called 911 and started chest compressions. EMTs finally arrived at her door after what “seemed like forever.”

Paramedics told Kathy she had done a great job, then worked on Genny for 20 – 30 minutes, before transporting her to the hospital, where Kathy gathered with the same family she had been celebrating with just the day before. Hours later, hospital staff asked them to step into a small room where a doctor delivered the devastating news that Genny had not survived cardiac arrest. “I’m sure I was in shock, traumatized, everything you can think of,” Kathy says.

She grieved for more than a year then decided she had to do something to honor Genny, who was a certified nursing assistant and a veteran who lost her life on the Fourth of July. Right before her sister’s death, Kathy had relocated to the Atlanta area to be closer to family and grow a business chauffeuring her 65-year-old Rolls-Royce, which was built for Buckingham Palace. “But when my sister died, that fell behind, it was no longer a priority. Saving lives became my mission,” Kathy says.

She found the strength to walk into an American Heart Association Training Center in Acworth, Georgia, which teaches on-site CPR classes. At first, she thought about just taking a class, then decided to inquire about becoming an instructor. She met with the manager, submitted her resume, eventually earned the Basic Life Support Instructor Certification and joined the training center staff in October 2023 as a BLS faculty member.

From there, she did a deep dive into CPR instruction and realized there were almost 4,000 CPR instructors currently employed in the United States. “But when I got down to Blacks, and I realized only 7.3% of instructors were Black or African American, my mouth just fell. I thought that was totally impossible. There’s no way this number could be that low. That was so disappointing,” Kathy says.

She went on to learn that Black or Hispanic adults who experience a witnessed cardiac arrest outside the hospital are substantially less likely than their white peers to receive lifesaving care from a bystander. “That crushed me. That changed everything,” she says.

Kathy made up her mind to reach people right where they were – at home during the pandemic. Realizing that hundreds of thousands of people lived in apartment complexes, she started there. Management teams were more than happy to support her efforts to teach CPR.

Kathy ordered everything she needed – manikins, masks, an AED, DVDs, training books – and began to volunteer her time to provide free Hands-Only CPR demonstrations right there in the complex’s community center. Everyone can afford free and they knew where to go, so neighbors of all ages, from kids to adults, were invited to practice calling 911 and apply 30 compressions on manikins. Kathy even stocked a Life Savers candy dispenser so participants could enjoy a sweet treat once they completed their training. “They didn’t have to leave the comfort of their own home. I came to them,” Kathy says.

Today, she’s teaching and volunteering her time at the seemingly endless number of apartments around Kennesaw State University. “I do this in honor of my sister,” she says, noting she still carries Genny’s photo in her instructor binder as a reminder of the importance of learning CPR.

And so, the crusade continues. “My goals are to continue teaching at the RC Health Services, continue the Hands-Only CPR demonstrations in the community and train people of color to become a CPR instructor,” Kathy says. “Imagine one apartment building. Just think of how many of those there are all over the United States. If we can get out there and offer Hands-Only demonstrations and BLS/CPR training that will be beneficial in a life-saving event for the entire community, we can give all people an opportunity to do something instead of nothing.”


Heart-Saving Hero, Not an Average Joe

By Gina Mayfield

On an unseasonably warm evening in rural Maryland, Joe Greco hosted a small cookout for his son Joey’s friend Alex and his dad, John. After dinner, all four guys played a little basketball in preparation for upcoming high school tryouts before the boys headed inside.

Joe and John remained outside, just standing around talking about sports and life, when John said, “You know, I’m starting to feel … .” Those were his last words before he collapsed, and Joe caught him midway down to the concrete floor of the garage.

“Initially, I thought he was having a seizure,” Joe says. “He’s breathing very heavily, his eyes are rolling back in his head and he was convulsing a little bit. Then, all of sudden, he stops breathing.” At that point, Joe ran inside where he instructed his son to call 911 and John’s son to run down the 400-foot driveway to wave in first responders.

Survivor John Holschuh & Heartsaver Joe Greco

Joe started administering CPR – chest compressions and mouth to mouth breathing. John would take a few breaths, then stop breathing again. Joe continued CPR, only stopping to clear vomit from John’s mouth.

Soon enough, Joey ran into the garage with a 911 dispatcher on the line. “She was coaching me, helping me with the timing, she was really just a nice support and comfort,” Joe says. Eventually, she asked him just to focus on chest compressions, but nothing seemed to help.

About that time a local volunteer fireman who had heard the 911 call on the scanner appeared in the garage. “He told me to keep doing what I was doing,” Joe says. About 10-15 minutes after the 911 call went out, EMTs arrived on the scene and shocked John with the defibrillator. Still, not much of a response.

“I remember holding my son’s hand, holding Alex’s hand, in my garage – the three of us saying prayers and yelling to John to fight, to work, to give him encouragement to stay with us,” Joe says. Paramedics used the defibrillator one more time and got a pulse, then quickly transported John to a local hospital with Joe and Alex right behind them.

John’s wife, Dawn, and other family members met them there. Joe returned home and got a call from Dawn around 10 p.m. to let him know that John was in a medically induced coma and they weren’t really sure what his outcome would be. If he didn’t come to within the next three days, they would have some difficult decisions to make.

The next morning, Joe got another phone call. On the other end of the line was Dawn, who said, “There’s someone here who wants to talk to you … .” It was John. The first thing he said was, “Did the old guys beat the young guys in basketball?” He had fought through that coma with his sense of humor still intact.

“The crazy thing is that none of the doctors are quite sure why John had a heart attack,” Joe says. “He’s in very good shape, takes care of himself. He’s an athlete, eats well, he’s not overweight, has no previous history of heart problems. Other than a defibrillator that’s been implanted in his shoulder, they basically told John to go live his normal lifestyle.”

Looking back, Joe says John’s not the only fortunate one. “The company I work for provides first aid and CPR training every two years,” he says. “We’re just very blessed that we had the outcome that we did, because if we didn’t, I know I would have been impacted greatly. One of the things that kept going through my head the whole time was that I wasn’t going to let those two boys witness something tragic. I was giving John everything I had. It was the scariest situation I’ve ever been in my life, but without the training, it would have been worse. I can’t imagine being there, not being able to do anything and feeling helpless, not being able to offer aid to someone who obviously needed it.”

Eventually, things settled down and life got back to normal. After a few phone calls, Joe and John had an emotional reunion while they waited outside during their sons’ basketball tryouts. Both boys made the team, and before a game the coach gave Joe a signed photo of the squad during a presentation to honor his heroic efforts. Of course, he insisted on John and the boys being included too.

“If it wasn’t for that training, if it wasn’t for the teamwork between the two boys helping me, the 911 operator coaching me, the great work that the local EMS team and the doctors at the hospital did, John wouldn’t be with us, and his family would be in a much different position,” Joe says. “I’m incredibly grateful that when a friend needed help, I was able to help him.”

WATCH this story featured by American Heart Association Baltimore & Greater Maryland.

Would you be able to step up if someone around you went into cardiac arrest? Learn to save a life and join the Nation of LifesaversTM by visiting Heart.org/Nation.


AHA Launches New Hands-Only CPR Campaign in NYC!

Today, I’m excited to be blogging you live from the official kick-off of the AHA’s new Hands-Only™ CPR Campaign at The Grace Building in New York City. Joining me for the celebration are several members of AHA leadership including President Gordon Tomaselli, CEO Nancy Brown, National Chairman William Roach, Chief Mission Officer Meighan Girgus and EVP of Communications Matt Bannister, our campaign sponsor, WellPoint Foundation, Laerdal Medical, experts in CPR training and science, survivors of sudden cardiac arrest and our new campaign spokesperson, actress and comedian Jennifer Coolidge!

Our new campaign uses a fun theme of the Bee Gees’ disco classic “Stayin’ Alive” (the song that’s been shown to help people remember the correct rate of CPR compressions) and focuses on giving bystanders the confidence to act if they witness a sudden cardiac arrest. At today’s event, we’ll launch our new public service announcement starring Ms. Coolidge and release our new Hands-Only CPR instructional video – both available at our newly-designed Hands-Only CPR website for you to view and download.

In addition, today’s event is our first stop on the mobile Hands-Only CPR tour! Our state-of-the-art mobile CPR training unit and certified trainers will be present to teach New Yorkers the simple steps to save a life. From here, the Hands-Only CPR mobile training unit will travel to host trainings in eight cities this summer. Over the next three years, the unit will be traveling across the county to build awareness and train people in lifesaving CPR skills.

With this campaign, we hope to train several hundred thousand people in Hands-Only CPR and also encourage people to learn conventional CPR. It’s easier than ever to save a life and I’m confident this campaign will raise significant awareness of how easy it can be!

Join the discussion on Hands-Only CPR – comment on my blog post, and check out what people are saying on our AHA CPR & First Aid Facebook and Twitter sites.

Also, please check back later this week for photos from today’s NYC kick-off!