Bronx high school trains the next generation of CPR heroes thank to American Heart Association gift

As a physical education teacher at Crotona International High School in the Bronx, Milagros Figueroa’s lessons often echo the principles of the American Heart Association, educating young people on how to create healthy habits that will propel them into a lifetime of excellent heart health. On Tuesday, December 6, 2022, Ms. Figueroa’s class learned another valuable lesson thanks to the American Heart Association, how to perform the life-saving skill known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR.

“As part of the NYS curriculum for Health we do have to cover various topics related to health, however one that should be considered a life skill for every individual is learning CPR and how to use an AED,” Ms. Figueroa said.

In New York State, CPR training is mandatory for high school graduation. Unfortunately, budget cuts and faculty shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic forced many schools to request special exemptions because they were unable to meet this requirement.

The American Heart Association identified this need and engaged David Potack, President of Unitex Textile Services, and member of the Association’s Heart of New York City Executive Leadership Team, to provide a philanthropic gift to fund a Bronx-based program aimed at providing 20,000 middle and high school children and their families with CPR/AED and First Aid training over the next three years.

To date, the Building a Healthier Bronx: CPR in Schools Program is working with 16 schools to place reusable CPR Training Kits, along with resources in multiple languages, including Spanish.

Crotona International High School serves recent immigrants to the United States who are new learners of English. Mr. Potack witnessed this in person on December 6, as Ms. Figueroa facilitated the CPR training simultaneously in English and Spanish.

“It is an honor to work with the American Heart Association and provide these lifesaving resources to students, teachers and families in the Bronx,” Mr. Potack said. “It was such a privilege to see this training first-hand and to see the enthusiasm with which the students received this new skill. I am grateful to Ms. Figueroa and everyone at Crotona International High School for welcoming me with open arms, and I am inspired by their commitment to this community.”

Why CPR/AED in the Bronx?

According to the American Heart Association, approximately 80% of cardiac arrests occur at home and about 92% of sudden cardiac arrest victims die before they reach the hospital. Getting help right away is crucial to survival. If more people knew CPR, more lives could be saved.

Only about 46 percent of these people receive the immediate help that they need before professional help arrives. In a diverse community like the Bronx, this is an even more critical problem because research indicates that Latinos and African Americans are 30% less likely to have CPR performed by a bystander.

One example of the power of CPR training occurred in 2018 when a student from a neighboring school, International Community High School in the Bronx, Anthony Rosa Compres, then 18 years old, saved a life at the intersection of Brook Avenue and East 140th Street.

Compres was two blocks away from his school when he noticed a crowd of onlookers huddled around a man who had collapsed on the sidewalk. Compres noticed that the man was in serious trouble and immediately took control of the scene. His CPR training kicked in: he instructed a friend to call 9-1-1, checked to see if the man was breathing, then he placed his hands on the center of the man’s chest and performed chest compressions hard and fast until an ambulance arrived to revive the man.

Thanks to Compres’ quick thinking, and the CPR and AED skills he learned in his physical education class just days earlier, the would-be tragedy turned into a certain triumph.

“CPR saves lives and the more people equipped with this skill the safer our city becomes,” said Robin Vitale, VP of Health, American Heart Association in New York City. “Thank you to David Potack for supporting our mission by bringing CPR education to schools throughout the Bronx. The American Heart Association is working across the Bronx to ensure that the places people live, work, play and pray, are armed with the skills to save a life and prevent the devastation that comes along with preventable death of a neighbor or loved one. Additionally, we are addressing health inequities by ensuring that those resources are available in multiple languages.”

Be the Beat

The American Heart Association will continue to advocate for CPR education in NYC and throughout the country. In February 2023 the Association will celebrate American Heart Month by launching a global campaign called Be the Beat with the goal of training at least one member of every family and home in Hands-Only CPR.

Hands-Only CPR is a technique that the American Heart Association recommends to help increase the likelihood of people performing CPR in an emergency. The two steps of Hands-Only CPR are to call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest.

By equipping people with Hands-Only CPR training, they learn how simple the technique is and there is a comfort level that will help them overcome concerns that cause hesitation to act in an emergency. If you’re called on to do CPR, you will likely be saving the life of someone you love.

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