Forestville teen who saved by father by CPR headed for Rose Parade

Lewis Griffith and his father, Steve, will ride Jan. 2 in the Tournament of Roses Parade on a float created by two advocates of CPR training.|

Steve Griffith, a retired teacher in Forestville, is a fairly easy person to make or buy gifts for.

At 66, Griffith is for good reason acutely grateful for everything he receives and for each moment with the people he loves. And those people are well aware that they needn’t try to come up with the greatest gift of his life; in he received it four months before Christmas of 2014.

On that hot August day, Griffith crumpled to the kitchen floor in sudden cardiac arrest. His son, Lewis, then 13, phoned 911 and described the crisis. The dispatcher asked if there were someone there who could commence CPR.

Lewis replied, “I can do that.”

His father was in no condition to hear those words; right then he showed no signs of life. It was days later that he heard what Lewis had declared to the 911 dispatcher.

I can do that. “It’s just one of the most powerful phrases I can imagine,” Steve Griffith said.

With those words, his son went to work. Lewis kneeled and without hesitation placed the heel of a palm on his dad’s chest, then did what he’d been taught that spring in an hands-only cardio-pulmonary resuscitation training at the school he attended then, Forestville Academy.

Lewis leveraged his weight to apply brisk, straight-down compressions to his unconscious father’s sternum. As instructed, the teenager timed the thrusts to the beat, in his head, of what’s become a medical miracle of a song: the Bee Gee’s 1977 disco hit, “Stayin’ Alive.”

Not very long later, Steve Griffith was looking about a hospital room and wondering why his chest hurt so and a doctor was telling Lewis, “You saved your dad’s life.”

Today, in addition to celebrating Christmas, the two of them and Lewis’ mother, Elizabeth Westerfield, and older sister, Ella, prepare for a special family trip to Pasadena.

On Jan. 2, Lewis and his dad will appear in the Tournament of Roses Parade on a float created by two advocates of CPR training, the American Heart Association and Union Bank. The parade entry, “Keep the Beat Alive,” will honor Lewis and several others who’ve saved lives with CPR, and it will herald a new law that seeks to bring hands-only CPR training to most California high schools starting in 2018.

Not surprisingly, the Griffiths are of a mind that everyone should learn the simplified version of CPR, which involves only chest compressions and no blowing of air into the subject’s mouth.

Had Lewis not been taught at school by Save Lives Sonoma, a partnership of firefighters, paramedics and others, his father believes he would not be alive today. At the least, Steve Griffith said, he strongly suspects that if Lewis hadn’t performed CPR on him while firefighters and an ambulance crew made their way to the house, he would not have recovered so fully and returned to the full life for which he’s hugely grateful.

Lewis, now 15 and a 10th-grader at Forestville’s El Molino High School, remembers that when the CPR trainers came to his former school two years ago he liked getting sprung from class for the session.

Beyond that, he said of the opportunity to learn CPR, “I don’t think I thought that much of it.” He and his classmates practiced on dummies, performing about 100 chest compressions per minute to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive.”

Spring rolled into summer. On the last Saturday of August 2014, Lewis’ dad, who’d retired from a teaching career in Daly City, was working up on the roof and began to feel lousy. He climbed down and went inside.

Steve Griffith recalls, “I sat at the kitchen table, thinking, ‘This just does not feel right.’?”

He had decided to be checked out at the Kaiser-Permanente medical center in Santa Rosa when, lights out. Lewis was watching TV nearby and heard his father fall to the kitchen floor.

The boy ran in to see that his dad wasn’t conscious.

“I yelled for mom,” Lewis said. “I called 911.”

Learning that Lewis was trained in CPR, the dispatcher advised him to get started. Lewis doesn’t recall worrying right then whether or not his dad would come to.

“I really wasn’t thinking that much,” he said. He focused on the chest compressions intended to substitute for a heartbeat and to keep blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

His father still was unresponsive when Forestville firefighters arrived, then a Russian River Fire Protection District ambulance crew. The professionals, surprised to see such a young person applying CPR so well, took over.

When continued chest compressions did not revive Steve Griffith, ambulance paramedics restored his heartbeat by administering a defibrillator. He was taken first to the Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. Later, a Kaiser-Permanente surgical team in San Francisco opened a blocked artery with a stent.

Griffith remembers sensing that his son hadn’t been too timid with the compressions that moved his blood and evidently were essential to his survival and recovery.

“My sternum was sore for a month,” he said. “But I was glad to endure it.”

This Christmas, he’s a grateful man with a heart set on riding in Pasadena’s grand Rose Parade eight days hence as sidekick, his term, to the son to whom he owes his life.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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