Laurie Heavener is one of the most vocal advocates for a new state law requiring high-school students to be taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation for a simple reason: She wouldn’t be alive if a trained student hadn’t been there when she had a heart attack.
She collapsed in March 2008 in the middle of a Randolph Township road. Sam Baron, then a student at the Pingry School in Bernards Township, saw a crowd surrounding Heavener and put his recently acquired CPR training to use. The private school required all students to undergo the training.
“Had it not been for this sophomore who had taken this mandatory CPR class through his school I would not be here,” Heavener told legislators at a hearing.
The law, signed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno while she was serving as acting governor last month, requires all public and charter high schools to provide every student with training in CPR and the use of defibrillators. While current school curriculum standards require basic life-support competency, legislators and heart-health advocates said it was important to specify that every student would receive CPR training.
The law is intended to complement separate legislation enacted in 2012 that went into effect yesterday that requires every school property in the state to have an automated external defibrillator in an unlocked location.
Roughly 90 percent of the estimated 400,000 sudden cardiac arrests annually in the United States are fatal. But the chances of survival are greatly increased by the speed with which CPR and defibrillators are used.
American Heart Association lobbyist Corinne Orlando said schools are well positioned to reduce the risk of heart-attack deaths. She noted that the AHA and similar organizations provide online training material that can be used in the classes. She added that using hands-on training with a mannequin or even a half-deflated soccer ball or volleyball can have a bigger impact that using only textbooks or videos.
“We feel it’s important that we’re training as many people as possible, and training students in high school is a good way to do this,” Orlando said.
Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-Camden and Gloucester) said the law’s positive consequences would be long-term, as students can practice the skills as adults.
“From a public-health standpoint, this is a smart move that has the potential to save countless lives in the long run by instilling these techniques in young people at an early age,” Fuentes said.
JoAnne Taylor Babbitt, another bill supporter, has been working to increase students’ preparedness to act quickly if a classmate has a heart attack since her 16-year-old son John collapsed and died from an undiagnosed heart condition while playing basketball with his friends in 2006. The family launched a foundation dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac arrest deaths.
“My son’s death was sudden and it was tragic, but the thing that stuck out in our mind the most and what we also spend a lot of time focusing on in the foundation is how to empower our youth,” Babbitt said. “His friends, the community at large, our teenagers, were devastated by losing one of their own.”
Senate sponsor Diane B. Allen (R-Burlington) noted that a Burlington Township Middle School student was saved in June through the quick use of both CPR and a defibrillator. Guadagno signed the bill at the school.
The law also drew support from medical providers. Dr. Dawn Calderon, chief of cardiology at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, said it was “a big step towards arming an army of people of all ages with the skill set to perform CPR” and use a defibrillator.
Jersey Shore parent Meridian Health is working with the American Heart Association on an initiative to increase the number of high-school students in Monmouth and Ocean counties who are trained to perform CPR.
The bill drew bipartisan support, with the Assembly passing it 77-0 and the Senate passing it 39-1. Sen. Michael J. Doherty (R-Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren) cast the only no vote.