Bill would require Washington teens learn CPR

Advocates will testify before the House of Representatives Education Committee Friday in favor of legislation that would require all Washington State high school students learn CPR and would put portable defibrillators in all high schools.

According to the American Heart Association, there are 360,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest in the United States each year and only about a third of these people receive CPR. Only 10 percent survive. The association claims CPR can double, or even triple, survival rates among cardiac arrest patients.

Supporters of House Bill 1556 believe that educating high school students on CPR will empower them to save lives long after high school is over.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, a former firefighter, sponsored this bill.

"This is about saving lives when every second counts," Van De Wege said. "Knowing how to perform CPR correctly is one of the most useful skills a person can have."

Eric Rothenberg, of Mercer Island, experienced the life-saving effects of CPR after he went into cardiac arrest while playing tennis in 2009. With no risk of heart disease, the 42-year-old went from feeling fine to suddenly losing consciousness in the middle of a game.

"I started to feel light headed and it wasn't going away," Rothenberg said. "They thought I was joking until I fell on my face and started bleeding from my nose."

Thankfully, there were doctors trained in CPR playing nearby that day. The men started chest compressions and shocked Rothenberg twice with a portable defibrillator, starting his heart and saving his life.

"I was clinically dead," Rothenberg said. "It was the actions of the people who knew what to do and jumped in right away that saved me."

Now, Rothenberg is an advocate for CPR training and HB 1556. He believes that 30 minutes of CPR education could empower an entire generation of students to save lives. Even if they don't remember every detail of their training years later, Rothenberg said people who know how to start compressions when someone's heart has stopped can save a life.

"You don't have to be prefect at it; you just have to do something," Rothenberg said. "Once someone's heart has stopped, you can't make it worse."

Both Rothenberg and Van De Wege argue that it is also important for high schools to have AEDs on site and staff trained to use them.

"As a society we need to get comfortable with AEDs," Van De Wege said. "As time progresses they're going to be wherever people congregate."

Still, some are concerned about how much CPR training would cost school districts.

But, Van De Wege said he does not anticipate this legislation would have any financial impact because there are currently so many community groups offering free CPR training. He said the bill does not require school staff become certified CPR instructors.

The Seattle School District currently requires seventh-grade students be trained in CPR. And Lori Dunn, the district's physical education program manager, said she supports HB 1556.

Still, Dunn said the district has been trying to offer CPR training to ninth graders but there has not been enough funding to do so. She said this kind of training should be required by federal law and supported with federal funding.

"I think it should be federal policy that should lay down what we want all kids to be able to do," she said.

A similar bill recommending CPR training be added to Washington state high school graduation requirements failed last year. Still, Rothenberg said this is an important lesson that should be included in health curriculums.

"There are so many things you learn in high school that you never get to use in your life," Rothenberg said. "Empowering and enabling a generation of lifesavers can make a huge difference."

You can learn "hands only" CPR in the American Heart Associations instructional video.