Laurie Heavener was talking with another mother outside her daughter’s Girl Scout meeting in Randolph, New Jersey, when her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed from cardiac arrest. A high school sophomore administered CPR, just one day after he received training.
More than six years later, Heavener was there to watch New Jersey’s Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, serving as acting governor, sign a bill into law making the state the 19th in the nation to require students learn CPR to graduate high school.
“Put simply, this law will save lives,” said Guadagno at the bill signing. “These critical skills are easy to learn and can make all the difference in the world to someone in cardiac arrest. These skills can be learned in 30 minutes or one class period. Frankly, I can’t think of a better use of a half hour.”
The efforts to pass a CPR in Schools law in New Jersey began last year, when volunteers traveled to Trenton to speak with their legislators.
“We had been trying to get legislators to sponsor a CPR in Schools bill,” said Corinne Orlando, the American Heart Association’s government relations director in New Jersey. “Laurie shared her story with legislators during the June 2013 Lobby Day, and Sen. Diane Allen, R-Edgewater Park, agreed that day to sponsor a bill.”
A few months later, bills were introduced in the state House and Senate.
Then on May 15, Heavener returned to the statehouse to testify before the Assembly Education Committee.
“This law means that all of our kids will learn CPR. We are empowering all of our students to save lives. The boy who saved me knew CPR because his school thought outside of the box and taught it,” she said.
The bill passed with only one dissenting vote.
Cardiologist Dr. William Tansey III, an advocate for the law, said that “by teaching high school students this important skill, New Jersey will be creating a generation of lifesavers.”
“This bill is important not just to me, but to the 424,000 people like me who suffer sudden cardiac arrest each year,” said Heavener, a mother of four. “It’s amazing that only 11 percent survive. The only thing to save people is CPR or an AED. I can’t believe New Jersey is only the 19th state to pass this law. C’mon – all states should have this.”
Advocates continue to push in the rest of the nation for similar laws. In neighboring New York, a CPR in Schools bill passed the state Assembly and the state Senate this year – the farthest it’s ever gotten.
It currently needs Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature. From there, it must go to the New York State Commissioner of Education, who has 180 days to make a recommendation to the state Board of Regents to include it in the curriculum.
“Most sudden cardiac arrest happens in the home,” said Dan Moran, president of Next-Act in Colonie, New York, and chair of the New York State Advocacy Committee. “We need this law so that everyone has access to CPR.”
Access is a point on why advocates push for CPR to be taught through the school system.
“Our continued research shows disparities exist in learning and performing CPR, and we are ready to move beyond documenting gaps to finding solutions to fix them,” said Dianne Atkins, professor of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa. “School is a great equalizer, which is why CPR in schools is an integral part of the solution and will help increase bystander CPR across all communities and save more lives.”
Latinos and African-Americans are 30 percent less likely to have bystander CPR performed on them in an emergency, according to AHA research. People who live in lower-income, African-American neighborhoods are 50 percent less likely to have CPR performed.
The AHA is training students, teachers and parents via CPR in Schools to help eliminate inequities. Ross Dress for Less is supporting AHA’s efforts to help save more lives by providing free CPR training resources to public schools in lower-income areas
The AHA’s goal is to pair each Ross Dress for Less store with a nearby public school that has at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.
Under the program, more than 1,100 schools in the U.S. will receive a CPR in Schools Training Kit, teaching materials and a tool that will track how many students they have trained. Teachers also have access to AHA resources, volunteers and CPR in Schools staff throughout the program.