Thirteen-year-old Lucy Decker was at a rowing event in Oakland last month when a spectator suddenly collapsed, apparently having a heart attack. A concerned crowd of onlookers gathered around, while one man stepped forward and started performing CPR.
The problem, though, was the bystander was doing it all wrong. He was performing the CPR compressions into the ailing man’s shoulder blade, clearly not doing any good.
That’s when Decker, an 8th grader at Petaluma Junior High School, stepped forward and corrected the man. Relying on the training she had learned in P.E. class, she demonstrated the proper technique of chest compressions, helping to sustain the man until paramedics arrived.
“I just thought that this man has more time to live,” Decker said. “He looked young. I didn’t think it was his time.”
Decker learned CPR at school as part of a countywide initiative to train juniors high students to become potential life savers and help schools be prepared for a cardiac emergency. Saves Lives Sonoma works in partnership with HeartSafe Community, an initiative of the Petaluma Health Care District, which brings together various first responder agencies and nonprofits, including the Petaluma Fire Department, the American Heart Association, and EMS.
Through the work of Saves Lives Sonoma and HeartSafe Community, schools can become certified as “HeartSafe,” meaning they have a maintained and accessible AED, CPR certified staff, and opportunities to train students in hands-only CPR. This year, all schools within the Petaluma area have become certified as a HeartSafe campus.
The incident was the second life saved by a Petaluma student in two years. In 2015, Petaluma Junior High School student Emmy Stephens-Jackson, helped her older sister, Koko Stephens-Jackson, perform CPR on their mother, who suffered a cardiac arrest.
More than 1,000 Petaluma seventh graders have learned hands-only CPR, which consists of chest compression, and is an easier version than standard CPR, which includes breathing into the other person’s mouth.
Dean Anderson, regional director for ambulance company AMR, which started Save Lives Sonoma eight years ago, said that the best chance for a cardiac arrest patient to survive is having a knowledgeable bystander perform CPR. He said it has been beneficial to train seventh graders and deploy them in the community with life saving skills.
“We find a lot of enthusiasm among the seventh grade level,” he said. “They are willing to get involved and they are willing to help.”
Using an $18,000 grant, the coalition has purchased hundreds of mannequins, which first responders use during their training.
While it is one thing to save a friend or family member, Decker’s case was unique because she saved a complete stranger, said Zack Dee, her P.E. teacher at Petaluma Junior High School.
“What really impresses me is that she was comfortable jumping in and correcting an adult,” he said.
For Decker, a member of the North Bay Rowing Club, saving a life comes with a rewarding feeling.
“I felt like I really helped someone,” she said. “That’s just a good feeling all over.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)