DECEMBER 2, 2015 - Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And with obesity rates on the rise, experts fear that number will only increase.
Those concerns inspired Nirmal Maitra (NHS ‘17) and Brandon Ferrell (NHS ’17), both human science majors, to start Heroes for Hearts, a nonprofit organization that trains undergraduate students to teach CPR to members of the general public.
“I started to read about who was getting trained in CPR, and it's mostly health professionals or people in the health industry that were being trained either in a hospital or through the American Red Cross,” said Maitra, president of Heroes for Hearts. “Students are a vital resource that are untapped, and students are present everywhere. We can equip them to be ready to teach CPR/AED [automated external defibrillator] and safely perform it as needed.”
At the same time, David Milzman, MD, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for informatics and research at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and Arthur Kellermann, MD, dean of Uniformed Services University School of Medicine, were working alongside Harvey Sloane, former D.C. health commissioner, to promote bystander CPR in D.C. The District has the fewest people per capita trained in CPR.
Milzman became the faculty advisor for Heroes for Hearts, and expanded the program to include students from the School of Medicine and the Special Masters Program in Physiology. The medical students work alongside their undergraduate counterparts in Heroes for Hearts to train members of the D.C. community in bystander CPR.
Buying Critical Time
There are many reasons that community members are reluctant to get trained in and perform CPR. Part of the hesitation is the idea of giving a complete stranger mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, said Milzman.
“Few people want to do mouth-to-mouth. Luckily, it has been shown that giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation doesn’t really change anything in the first five minutes,” Milzman said. “Compression-only CPR can really make the difference we need.”
This difference translates to more lives saved from cardiac arrest.
“This knowledge can buy us an extra three to five life-saving minutes,” said Milzman. “The national survival rate for cardiac arrest is about 10 percent. In D.C., it is under 2 percent because we have one of the lowest rates of bystander CPR in the nation.”
Another barrier is the monetary cost and time commitment to get certified in CPR.
“Getting certified in basic CPR takes around two-and-a-half hours,” said Maitra. “Once trained in basic CPR, students can train the community in citizen CPR in 20-30 minutes and we will do it for free.”
The Heroes for Hearts tagline, “20 minutes. Let’s Save a Life,” underscores the importance of citizen CPR. According to the American Heart Association, the survival rate for cardiac arrest patients who receive bystander CPR is 31.4 percent, compared with just 5.2 percent for patients that don’t receive care until EMS arrives.
Students: The Untapped Resource
Thirty-five undergraduate and 180 medical students are involved in Hoyas for Hearts. They must be officially certified to teach citizen CPR, but don’t have to be “instructors,” a distinction that Maitra says saves time and money.
Since September, students have trained 400 community members including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her staff, D.C. councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and city council staff.
Two students can train up to 25 people at a time. Hoyas for Hearts is approaching D.C. schools, restaurants and houses of prayer for trainees.
“We have reached out to D.C. public schools and charter schools to train all 5th, 7th and 9th graders in CPR so they can bring the knowledge home to their parents and grandparents,” said Milzman. “The DC Restaurant Association has also agreed to let Hoyas for Hearts train nearly 800 restaurant staff members in the Heimlich maneuver as well as CPR.”
The ultimate goal is to train 50,000 people by the end of next summer.
“We really believe in the power of students,” said Maitra. “We hope to bring this model to other universities across the country.”
Influencing Public Policy
Milzman, Maitra and Ferrell have all testified on behalf of Hoyas for Hearts at D.C. City Council hearings concerning two bills related to CPR. The first, the Office of Unified Communications Training, CPR and Modernization Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0290), calls for a District-wide CPR training program for District students, employees and residents.
“Most high schools on the eastern seaboard require CPR training for all graduating high school seniors,” said Milzman. “Maryland and Virginia both passed laws last year making CPR a graduation requirement. D.C. has not. That requirement would go a long way.”
The second bill, the CPR and AED Requirements Act of 2015 (B21-243), would require all schools in D.C. to have at least one AED and require that certain school employees be trained to use an AED.
“We think there should be more than one AED required. There should be one in the cafeteria, one in the gym and one by the principal’s office,” said Milzman. “But requiring one is a start.”
Both bills are still under council review. Until then, Hoyas for Hearts will continue its community outreach.
“It’s a big undertaking, but we’re doing it with the full support of the city and we’re not charging anything for it. It only takes 20 minutes for a citizen to have the wherewithal to save a life,” said Milzman.
Like Heroes for Hearts on Facebook to learn more and keep up with their events: https://www.facebook.com/Heroes4Hearts/
Leigh Ann Renzulli