Campaign starts to teach hands-only CPR to thousands (with video)

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Call 911. Push hard and push fast.

That's it. That's all it takes to save the life of a person in sudden cardiac arrest.

The two-step process was the topic of discussion and demonstration Friday morning at Evergreen High School, where emergency responders from across Clark County taught 800 juniors and seniors how to perform hands-only CPR.

Dr. Lynn Wittwer, program director for the county's emergency medical services, gave the students a brief explainer on the method before sending the teens to the gymnasium, where dozens of emergency responders and mannequins awaited.

As the BeeGees classic "Stayin' Alive" — playing on repeat — boomed through the speakers, the students performed chest compressions on the dummies.

"You hear the beat?" Vancouver Fire Capt. Bob Carroll asked a group of students. "The rhythm will get you about 100 compressions per minute."

That's the goal in hands-only CPR. With the simpler method, CPR providers place one hand in the middle of the victim's chest and stack their other hand on top, interlocking their fingers. Then, push hard (about 2 inches) and push fast (100 compressions per minute).

"That's all we're asking you to do," Carroll told the students. "It's that simple."

The brief demonstration Friday morning was the first time junior Fari Thompson had ever been taught CPR.

"I thought it was fun, pretty easy," she said. "I thought you had to blow in their mouths."

With cardiac arrest victims, though, oxygen flow usually isn't impeded. What's important, Wittwer said, is keeping their blood circulating.

"Hands-only CPR is as effective as anything for lay-persons," Wittwer said.

Nathan Gulliford, a sophomore, received CPR training a few years ago. But that training included rescue breaths; Friday's exercise served as an introduction to hands-only CPR, he said.

"This is a little different," he said. "It's a lot more efficient."

"If they take it serious, then more people know what to do if something happens," Gulliford added.

In the past 11/2 years, two Evergreen students have collapsed in cardiac arrest. Both students were treated and resuscitated at the school with CPR and an automated external defibrillator, Wittwer said.

Evergreen senior Heidi Stewart, 18, collapsed in February as she walked into the school's office. In September 2011, on the second day of school, then 15-year-old Keilea Swearingen went into cardiac arrest in her fourth-period physics class.

Both girls attended the hands-only CPR event, thanking their classmates for taking time to learn the life-saving technique.

The hourlong training blitz at the Vancouver school kicked off a two-year campaign to teach CPR to thousands of Clark County residents.

Wittwer hopes to train at least 10 percent of the local population — about 30,000 to 45,000 Clark County residents — how to do hands-only CPR.

"Very few people know CPR in this county," Wittwer said.

The 911 dispatchers always ask, in cases of probable cardiac arrest, if anyone in the household or at the scene knows CPR. The answer is almost universally no, Wittwer said.

Wittwer hopes teaching students the simpler method will not only increase the number of people who know CPR but also increase the survival rate for people who experience sudden cardiac arrest. Currently, about 15 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients end up leaving the hospital in good condition.

"If we can get at least one person in any household or the next door neighbor who can do CPR, I think we will increase our survival rate," Wittwer said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.