Teach Them While They’re Young

I just finished reading a great guest post on “Everyday EMS Tips” by Steve Lichtenberg about teaching CPR to kids. He gives some great advice about teaching to a younger audience. But more importantly, he makes it clear that kids can be taught to save lives. This post really hit home, as I am living proof on how teaching kids to perform CPR or First Aid can really make a difference.

When I was 12 years old, I took a health class in school to get out of having to take Spanish. For 2 weeks, we learned CPR and first aid. We were also certified in the skills once we showed our instructor proficiency. To me, it was more of an excuse to goof around and pretend to make out with the CPR dummy and make people laugh. It still didn’t change the fact that I had to learn the skills in order to pass that part of the class. I actually did find the first aid part of training to be interesting. So after I passed the class, I had 2 neat cards to put on the refrigerator and show off to my parents. I never thought I would use any of those skills, especially as a child.

A couple days after I completed that class, I was riding bikes home with a couple of my friends. One of the kids that was riding with us decided to take off across traffic and was hit by a pickup truck. I watched him fly over the handlebars, hit his head on the windshield and fall off the side of the truck to the street. After a couple seconds of watching him lay motionless, I ran over to him to see if he was OK. He wouldn’t respond to me and basically laid there limp.

The lady driving the truck got out and started screaming at me to get out of the road so that she could pull him off to the side. I knew that we shouldn’t move him, although I didn’t exactly know why. I just remembered that we should keep the head still and try to keep his airway open. I held his head and performed the best jaw-thrust that I could and told the lady to call 911. This was before cell phones were popular, so there was really nothing she could do. I yelled at my friend to ride to his house that was only a block away and call instead.

Several people stopped to help, and pretty much everyone wanted to pull him out of the road. I was adamant that we couldn’t move him and I tried my best to convince the adults on scene that I knew what I was doing. Looking back, I clearly didn’t know what I was doing, but I did know that he wouldn’t breathe when I wasn’t moving his jaw forward. It basically came down to the fact that I refused to let go of his head, so they really had no choice. I had one of my friends hold pressure with a towel on a large laceration that he sustained from the accident in attempt to control the bleeding. He too had just taken the same class.

The ambulance (a service I ended up working for) arrived on scene first and took over care. I don’t remember much of what they did, but I do remember one of the crew members thanking me and saying that I did the right thing by holding his head. A couple months later, the kid returned to school. He suffered minor brain damage and a spinal fracture. He had no lasting neurological deficits and pretty much made a full recovery.

So yes, I do think that kids can and should be taught to perform life saving interventions. Image how many victims of cardiac arrest would survive if we taught all high school students to perform CPR? We make them learn to use a computer and type properly on a keyboard. Why not teach them how to react in a life-threatening emergency? They may never take another CPR class for the rest of their life, but they will always have at least some of the knowledge in the back of their head. Bad CPR is always better than no CPR. I wonder if the American Heart Association has tried to approach programs that would teach young adults CPR before graduating high school?

If anyone knows of such programs, I would love to hear about it.

[Author’s Note] This was written back in 2010 and I’m well aware of the high school CPR programs now. I left this post up to share my story and to show how important it is to teach teenagers how to react in emergencies. 

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