BENSON — High school seniors across Arizona will have to know how to perform “Chest-Compression-Only” CPR as a requirement for graduation.

It’s the law.

“As of July 2019, Arizona is requiring all students to successfully complete instruction in compression-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation,” said Benson High School Academic Counselor Brenda Kurtz, who with the help of University of Arizona Cooperative Extension school liaison Sepp Sprietsma has been helping to coordinate classes for Benson’s 2020 graduating class. “This is a new law. Today (Tuesday) represents our first round of training.”

A three-member team from Sarver Heart Center out of the University of Arizona visited Benson High School on Tuesday to teach the class, which is provided free and takes between 45 minutes and an hour for students to complete. The session starts with a fun clip from NBC sitcom “The Office,” where Michael, Brian, Dwight and Stanley manage to turn a basic CPR class into a complete debacle.

“This is a great video for showing you what not to do,” said Erika Yee, a Sarver employee and UA graduate student who is working on her masters in public health.

Yee said that on average, she and her team train about 4,000 people on chest-compression CPR every year, the technique used in cases of primary cardiac arrest.

Adam Gross, a 2018 UA biology graduate and Gissel Heraldez, a UA physiology student, are the other two members of Yee’s training team.

“Statistics show that CPR chest compressions nearly double survival rates in primary cardiac arrest cases,” Gross said. “Secondary cardiac arrest is when some other incident outside of the heart — such as choking, drowning or drug overdose — causes cardiac arrest. In those cases, conventional CPR guidelines using mouth-to-mouth ventilations are recommended.”

Children 8-years-old and under typically fall in the secondary cardiac arrest category, with the recommended two mouth-to-mouth ventilations followed by 30 chest-compressions, Gross added.

“However, performing, chest-compressions-only is better than doing nothing at all when there is a cardiac emergency,” said Heraldez, who added that when in doubt about what to do, always proceed with compressions.

During the training, students were provided a Sarver Heart Center card that outlines the CPR technique for sudden cardiac arrest.

“Compressions are administered continuously at a rate of 100 per minute until help arrives,” Yee said while demonstrating what to do. “This is nonstop chest compressions to pump blood throughout the body. People in primary cardiac arrest have a healthy supply of oxygenated blood, so the breaths are not necessary.”

Students also were taught how to tell the difference between sudden cardiac arrest, which is when the heart stops beating, and a heart attack, where the heart is still beating, but the person is conscious and shows signs of discomfort.

“Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, left arm pain, sweating and difficulting breathing,” Yee explained. “In heart attack cases, the person is capable of speaking. With sudden cardiac arrest, the heart completely stops pumping blood and the person is unconscious.”

In sudden cardiac arrest cases, start chest compressions immediately, as timing is key to the person’s survival, Yee said.

While the Sarver Heart Center team travels to schools all over Southern Arizona to train students in CPR, the training can be provided by other medical personnel as well.

At Tombstone High School, Teri Hayhurst, a registered nurse who teaches the school’s medical professions class has already started the CPR training sessions. About half of the school’s senior class has gone through the course, with the remaining seniors slated for training in upcoming sessions.

“We actually started the training with last year’s graduating class,” said Hayhurst, who uses an American Heart Association training kit for her students. “So, this is our second year of compression-only CPR training. Half of the 2020 graduating seniors at THS have been trained in sudden cardiac arrest and earned a certificate of completion for going through the required training.”

Bisbee School District Superintendent Tom Woody said that the Bisbee High School nurse will be conducting the training prior to the end of the school year.

“We have about 80 seniors, and are in the process of scheduling the classes,” he said.

Sierra Vista Unified School District Public Information Officer Jacob Martinez said that Buena High School will be providing a class for 2020 graduating seniors who have not already completed a chest compression CPR certification.

Douglas High School seniors were trained by the Sarver Heart Center team earlier this year, Yee said. “We’ve visited several high schools in Southern Arizona, and Douglas was one of them.”

Lecia Wilkins was one of the first members of Benson High School class to step up to the CPR dummy and start compressions after listening to Yee’s brief training lecture.

“I think it’s important that we’re learning to do this,” she said. “It’s not difficult to learn how to do the compressions, and you never know when you might need to save someone’s life.”

Eighteen-year-old Leticia Lopez was already familiar with CPR through a medical professions class she took at the high school last year.

“This was a good refresher for me,” she said. “They did a good job of showing us how to do the compressions and I liked the way they walked us through the steps before you start the compressions. It’s important to know to check the person for responsiveness, direct someone to call 911 and make sure you’re in a safe place to help the person before starting the compressions.”

Benson’s students were split into different sessions, with the training accommodating about 20 students in each class.

“All of them passed and will be receiving their (chest-compression-only) CPR certificate,” said Yee, who added that she and her team enjoy visiting schools in Cochise County. She urges schools to contact Sarver Heart Center to arrange training by going to the website at www.heart.arizona.edu.

“This new law came up suddenly, with the state leaving schools scrambling to comply without providing any resources,” Kurtz said. “That’s why it’s so valuable for schools to have organizations like Sarver Heart Center and people like Erika Yee and Sepp Sprietsma to turn to for help.”

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