PARKERSBURG — The American Heart Association is looking to increase the chances of West Virginians surviving sudden cardiac arrest, and with the help of the Highmark Foundation, they’re starting in Wood County schools.
A $100,000 grant from the foundation, a charitable affiliate of the insurance company that includes Highmark West Virginia, to implement the Mission: Lifeline program in West Virginia was announced Wednesday at Blennerhassett Elementary/Middle School. The goal is to provide better heart attack care by increasing a community’s resources, including the number of people who know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
One way to do that is teaching kids, which is why the program is starting by distributing 27 CPR in Schools training kits to every public and parochial middle and high school in Wood County. They hope to expand such training throughout the state.
Joe Laskowski, community CPR manager for the American Heart Association’s Great Rivers affiliate, emphasized the importance of CPR to 40 Blennerhassett Middle School students Wednesday.
“Bad CPR is better than no CPR. If you do CPR, you’ll double the chances of survival for that individual,” he said. “We can’t guarantee a happy ending, but we can guarantee the ending if you don’t do anything.”
The heart association says 90 percent of those who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die, but Laskowski said the numbers are worse in West Virginia where lack of public education about heart attack signs and symptoms along with the challenges of distance and time increase the risk.
Wood County has one of the highest rates in the state for heart disease and deaths from a type of heart attack known as STEMI, in which blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart, said Judy Sjostedt, chairwoman of the Highmark West Virginia board and a member of the Highmark Foundation board. That’s why Wood County was chosen as the starting point for the project, she said.
Students also heard from a Parkersburg resident who used CPR to save a life and the man whose life he saved.
Caleb Tisdale said he learned CPR when he was 15 while training to be a lifeguard. During the eight years he worked in that job though, he never used it.
The first time was on July 11, 2012, when he was a counselor at a church camp in Parkersburg. After a lightning strike during a softball game, he spotted then-18-year-old Zach Sandy lying motionless in the outfield.
“He’s got smoke coming off of his body, coming out of his mouth,” Tisdale recalled.
Tisdale performed chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for 17 minutes until an ambulance arrived. First responders placed Sandy on a stretcher, put him in the ambulance and used an automatic external defibrillator before finally reviving him.
“If you know it, you might one day be a hero, you might save a life,” Tisdale said.
Sandy said he learned CPR himself as a result of the experience.
“Don’t think of it as something that you will never use,” he said. “This is not something to take lightly.”
Students then received a CPR instruction demonstration from Laskowski and were enthusiastic about the experience.
“It makes me feel like I could actually, like, save somebody’s life,” seventh-grader Cassandra Fink said.
“It was really thrilling,” seventh-grader Ella Hardman added.
The American Heart Association is also lobbying the West Virginia Legislature to require CPR training for students before they graduate high school.