Petaluma students learn how to save a life in countywide CPR push

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Lessons Tuesday for seventh-graders at Petaluma’s Kenilworth Junior High School included how to try to save a life through hands-only CPR training.

The training this week for all of the school’s seventh-graders is part of a countywide plan by the nonprofit group Save Lives Sonoma to annually teach the skill to all seventh-graders as well as any residents willing to learn.

So far this year, about 900 Petaluma teens have received the training, including seventh graders at Kenilworth, Petaluma Junior High, St. Vincent’s and San Antonio High School.

“That’s just Petaluma,” said Petaluma fire Battalion Chief Jeff Schach, who organizes the group’s efforts in the city. “It’s still happening all over the county.”

About 3,000 students countywide have undergone the training this year.

Hands-only CPR, which consists strictly of chest compression — is an easier version than standard CPR, which includes breathing into the person’s mouth. Leading health organizations including the American Heart Association and Red Cross are recommending the method following several studies that found chest compressions alone were just as effective as chest compressions combined with breath.

Save Lives Sonoma is made up of many volunteers, including emergency responders, health organization officials and grateful heart attack survivors.

The effort includes an attempt to get an automated external defibrillator at every school in the county. Tuesday morning, several volunteers took hundreds of inflatable heads and chests to Kenilworth Junior High, working with 60 to 90 students at a time.

The lesson included a short, instructional DVD, and professionals, including firefighters and paramedics, telling their experiences of trying to save people. The students also do a two-minute challenge of compressions on plastic chests.

Dave Smith, 57, now volunteers with Save Lives Sonoma and Tuesday he spoke to the Petaluma seventh graders as part of their lesson.

He gave them a first person account of someone who would be dead if not for a stranger giving him CPR after he collapsed while jogging at Spring Lake.

Smith, a Santa Rosa resident, nearly died that day in 2010 but for the “chain” of people willing to step up, he told the students.

After he fell to the ground a passerby saw him and yelled for help and a jogging woman who happened to be a nurse rushed over and gave him roughly eight minutes of chest compressions while waiting for paramedics.

Smith described for the teens how a group of people had gathered around to watch the efforts to keep him alive and when the nurse announced she was tired and needed someone to take over, “no one would.” That left the woman with no choice but to continue.

His message is that the hands-only CPR is easy and people shouldn’t be afraid to try if faced with such an emergency. Smith also gives them a challenge to go home and teach family members.

“They listen. It gets their attention,” he said of his story.

The lesson also includes the real-life story of a Forestville’s Lewis Griffith, 13, who last spring had the training at his school and a few months later used it to save his father’s life when the man had a heart attack at their rural home. Griffith did chest compressions for several minutes until firefighters and paramedics arrived.

“The Forestville kid had the same training these kids did. They are now empowered” to do it too if the need arises, Schach said.

For information, go to savelivessonoma.com.

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