By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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During a cardiac arrest, every second matters. Luckily, 12-year-old Aerin Thomas didn’t have to whip out her phone to check what to do when her dad’s heart stopped. She’d already been trained.

Aerin and her mom, Angela, were at a grocery store when they got a call from her dad, Joe. He wasn’t feeling well, and Angela could hear him struggling for breath. They rushed home to find Joe conscious but not feeling well.

Angela suggested a trip to an emergency room near their home in Frisco, Texas, but Joe said the pain in his chest had started to subside. But then Angela heard a gasp from the other room.

“He was just gone,” Angela said.

She began CPR while Aerin called 911. But Aerin, remembering her CPR training from a few months earlier, noticed her mom wasn’t performing it quite right, so she took over. Aerin maintained steady chest compressions at the right speed and depth. She refused to stop until the paramedics arrived.

“She wasn’t afraid,” Angela said. “Aerin was supernaturally calm and collected.”

Paramedics said that if Aerin had not administered proper CPR immediately, her father may have died that day in April. Frisco Fire Department’s Battalion Chief Paul Henley had never seen anything like it.

“That was the first time I witnessed a child perform CPR on a scene,” he said. “I drove her to the hospital afterward, and I was so proud of how she took initiative.”

That initiative, Henley said, is one of the main problems he sees. Though life-threatening emergencies are always tense, bystanders can’t afford to hesitate.

“CPR sounds daunting, and people think they can’t do it,” Henley said. “But if we reinforce the idea that anyone can do it, that will give people the confidence they need.”

About 356,000 Americans each year have a cardiac arrest outside a hospital. Receiving immediate CPR during a cardiac arrest can double or even triple survival rates, according to statistics from the American Heart Association.

“I’m so grateful Aerin had the presence of mind to do everything she needed to,” Angela said.

At the hospital, doctors determined a heart attack had caused Joe’s heart to start beating erratically.

Since 2012, Frisco ISD has included hands-on CPR training in PE class for sixth graders. Currently, 32 states — including Texas — require CPR training to graduate high school, amounting to more than 1.8 million public high school graduates each year knowing how to perform CPR.

Angela, a fifth-grade teacher, said middle school is the perfect time to teach children CPR. In fact, Henley said children are often present when an adult has a cardiac arrest since 70 percent of cardiac arrests that occur outside a hospital happen at home.

“You can never be too young to learn,” Angela said.

Aerin agrees CPR training is a necessity. “I didn’t know anything about CPR before taking the class,” she said. “It was lifesaving, really, to have practiced it before.”

Aerin Thomas, with her dad Joe, sister Amelia and mom Angela, received the American Heart Association's Heart Hero Saver Award in May.

Aerin Thomas, with her dad Joe, sister Amelia and mom Angela, received the American Heart Association’s Heart Hero Saver Award in May.

Aerin has since been recognized by the Frisco Fire Department and the American Heart Association. She’s also received overwhelming support from classmates and teachers, and national media coverage. The attention is exciting, she admits, but she’s more interested in spreading a message.

“I think CPR is really valuable and important,” Aerin said. “I hope I can inspire people to want to learn, so they can be a lifesaver.”

Photos courtesy of the Thomas family and Kate Lino