We probably never imagined the 1977 Bee Gee's hit "Staying Alive" would re-emerge decades later and regain its popularity with, of all people, seventh-graders. Yes, that disco dancing beat just happens to the perfect "100 beats per minute" that is the ideal rhythm to administer chest compressions and, quite possibly, save a life.

Hands-only CPR and the proper use of an automated external defibrillator are now a part of the seventh-grade curriculum throughout the San Ramon Valley school district. Taught by staff of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, and volunteers from the HeartSafe Committee, the 45-minute instruction is hands-on, quick and easy for the students to grasp to become the next generation of lifesavers.

Gale Ranch Middle School seventh-graders strewed into the gym recently during their PE classes to learn the lifesaving techniques. Small groups of students knelt on mats with several mannequins in front of them. HeartSafe volunteers gave a personal and up-close demonstration of the techniques while Andy Swartzell, a fire district captain and EMS coordinator; Kimberly French, a fire district information officer and cardiac arrest survivor; and lifesaver Joe Farrell spoke to the group. Each student had a chance to practice their skills, learn how to work the AED and learn how to respond when he or she sees someone go into cardiac arrest.

Seventh-grader Tylan Hasten said his hands got tired doing the compressions on the mannequin, but, he added, "It's a good thing to learn in case it (cardiac arrest) ever happens."


Advertisement

"I want to learn how to do it (hands-only CPR)," said Vrajesh Prakhya. "I will definitely tell my family about it," he added.

The knowledge and skills the students are learning in this "classroom" are far-reaching throughout and beyond the San Ramon Valley as the students share their knowledge with parents, friends and family members.

The San Ramon Valley may be one of the safest places to experience a cardiac emergency, according to French. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sudden cardiac arrest, stroke and other cardiovascular events are the leading cause of death in the United States. One's chance of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting is around 8.5 percent nationally. But in the San Ramon Valley, one's chance of survival is at 17.9 percent. That rate of survival jumps to 46.9 percent if an AED is used to shock the heart versus 26.3 percent nationwide.

Gale Ranch Assistant Principal Justin White and other staff members were on hand to watch the 350 seventh-graders file in and out throughout the morning. "Seventh grade is the best time for them to learn. Our kids are awesome, happy for the knowledge and very engaging at this age."

This training, he added, "is compelling information and great knowledge to have."

Learning hands-only CPR and the proper use of the AED "empowers people," says Edie Farrell, a HeartSafe volunteer. "The kids take it (the training) seriously and pick it up quickly." Edie and her husband, Joe, were in Roseville when Joe suffered sudden cardiac arrest in August 2008. Continuous chest compressions and eight shocks from the AED saved his life. Just a year before, while on a golf course, Joe had performed hands-only CPR and saved the life of a man who had cardiac arrest.

"It was more than a coincidence," says Joe, "and I felt I had to give something back." The Farrells looked to the HeartSafe Committee, a group of about 25 dedicated volunteers who have trained more than 4,300 residents in hands-only CPR and how to use the AED. Committee volunteers on hand at Gale Ranch included Cathe Culbertson, Fire District Board Member Jay Kerr, Danville's former Emergency Services Manager Greg Gilbert, Cliff Buxton, Larry Fong, Pam Dodson and Debbie Vanek, a fire code compliance officer for the Fire District.

"I've been saved by what we're teaching you today," Joe told the group of students. "We're going to teach you how to save a life."

According to Swartzell, there are 250 AEDs in public buildings throughout the San Ramon Valley. The local Rotary Clubs and the San Ramon Regional Medical Center donated many.

Joe says the seventh grade is an ideal age to learn these skills.

"They listen and are eager to learn."

In 2010, the American Heart Association guidelines changed to compressions only or hands-only CPR. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was unnecessary to save a life, and instantly CPR became easier to teach and learn.

"Four times as many people are willing to do hands-only CPR than mouth-to-mouth," adds Swartzell.

Contact Monica Lander at landerfamily@comcast.net.