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Saving Lives in the City of Brotherly Love

by Richard L. Snyder, M.D.
Would you know what to do if you saw someone suffer a sudden cardiac arrest? Would you know how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? Were you taught these skills in school?

As a member of the Philadelphia Board of the American Heart Association, we are committed to building healthier lives free from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Nationally, over 350,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur without warning each year, and almost all—90 percent—occur outside of a hospital. This means family, friends and neighbors will be the first responders. The grim reality is less than 10 percent survive because the public does not know what to do. In fact, recent polling reveals that over 70 percent feel helpless to assist because they were never taught CPR or believe their training is outdated. The American Heart Association wants to reverse this statistic.

Simply put, in order to save more lives, more people need training. If CPR is administered immediately, the likelihood of survival can double or even triple—an important incentive for training as many people as possible. The American Heart Association has been a leader in offering CPR programs and providing toolkits and training that is inexpensive and easy to use. Most programs do not require a certified instructor and can be incorporated into existing health or wellness curriculums.

In addition to these offerings, a common sense solution to train more lifesavers is to teach CPR in high school. CPR is not taught in all Pennsylvania schools, but it should be. Across the country, 34 states have recognized the importance of CPR instruction and passed laws, most within the last five years. Of particular note, all of the states surrounding Pennsylvania have laws, including nearly all of the states along the East Coast. Why hasn’t Pennsylvania acted? House Bill 1464 and Senate Bill 948 were introduced last July and referred to the respective education committees, but they have not acted. The bills would ensure basic CPR instruction is taught to high school students at least once during that four-year span.

It makes sense for high school students to learn CPR at the same time they are learning other life skills. In fact, many high school students have saved family, friends and even teachers using CPR techniques they learned in health class or through an assembly. State lawmakers should not be scared that the legislation will place a costly burden onto schools. For the states that have laws in place, implementing it has not been difficult or expensive. The reason is schools can partner with local emergency responders who can provide training at no cost. Another option for schools is to use tools and resources available online and through nonprofit organizations, most of which are free. The program’s minimal financial impact is far outweighed by the benefit to our communities in adding thousands of individuals equipped to deliver emergency CPR.

The American Heart Association is striving to bring heart health awareness to the public. In the city of Philadelphia and surrounding region, we need to be mindful of the realities we are facing in chronic heart disease and obesity. According to a report just released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 30 percent of Pennsylvanians and 14 percent of high schoolers are obese. Compare that with Centers for Disease Control data which reports 68 percent of adults and 41 percent of youth are overweight or obese in Philadelphia. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of youth in North Philadelphia, the majority of whom are African-American or Hispanic, are overweight or obese, which is nearly double the rates for youth in the United States.

These statistics are alarming and until we reach a level where our society has healthier hearts, we must prepare our students, friends and families in case of an emergency. This means training our young ones to feel confident and prepared to perform CPR. Let’s make teaching CPR in all Pennsylvania schools a reality.

You can find more information on this important initiative by going to the American Heart Association’s website at Heart.org.

Richard L. Snyder, M.D. serves as senior vice president and chief medical officer for Independence Blue Cross and as board chair for the American Heart Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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