More than 350,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year in the United States. About 90 percent of those victims die, often because bystanders don’t know how to start Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or are afraid they’ll do something wrong. Bystander CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

In 2016, the American Heart Association advocated and succeeded in making CPR a graduation requirement, creating a new generation of life-savers trained to give cardiac arrest victims the immediate help they need to survive until emergency medical response arrives. But long before this important change, there were a group of teachers and nurses in Wallingford who had the desire to train students.

L to R: Leslie Carmody, Sue Pallotta, Carol MacDonald, Kathy Palermo, Julie Wollen

Nine years ago, Julie Wollen, Rock Hill Physical Education teacher; Kathy Palermo, retired Physical Education Teacher; Sue Pallotta, E.C. Stevens School Nurse and Carol MacDonald, Rock Hill School Nurse, along with supervisor Leslie Carmody from Survival Group, worked together to train all Grade 5 students in the district on Friends and Family® CPR and with Automated External Defibrillators, more commonly known as an AED.

“We started out volunteering our time becoming American Heart Instructors in CPR/AED and First Aid to certify our staffs at Rock Hill and E.C. Stevens Elementary Schools,” Wollen said. “At one point both schools had 100 percent of staff members certified! We then decided to try teaching this valuable skill to our 5th graders. We were amazed at how receptive they were to this important skill.”

The group knew that they wanted all students to learn how to handle a situation that required CPR or the use of an AED, so they worked together to receive approval from the superintendent to go to all four 3rd through 5th grade schools in the district and teach the 5th graders CPR and the use of an AED.

“During our visits to these schools, we would work with the school nurse and principal to run a practice Code AED drill for the staff’s Crisis Team,” Wollen said.

If there is any doubt that the lifesaving training and skill would work, it was proof positive when in 2014. Kathy Palermo and Carol McDonald trained Rock Hill’s secretary Debbie Morzowski and paraprofessional Connie Bickford in CPR. They were both at the Wallingford Recreation Department when a 34-year-old man dropped on the court. Debbie and Connie performed CPR for 20 minutes before EMS arrive and saved the man. This has been life-changing for Debbie, who has continued to have a relationship with this man and his family and has also since become a CPR Instructor.

In the last year, the group was approved to perform annual practice drills for all 12 schools in Wallingford, along with the Board of Education and Adult Education.

June 1 – 7th is CPR and AED Awareness Week and the American Heart Association encourages everyone to learn Hands Only CPR. To learn Hands Only CPR, go to heart.org/CPR. Just a few short minutes can provide a lifelong, lifesaving skill.

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