Lifesavers in training

SKILLS FOR LIFE Volunteers give instruction in hands-only CPR to participants in the The HEARTSafe Gilroy 5K Run/Walk on Aug. 20 at the Gilroy Sports Park. A new initiative is set to train all 4,000 of Gilroy’s high school students in the life-saving proc

Local high school students learn how to save a life, and get credit for doing so, through a new initiative between the local school district and fire department that brings hands-only CPR to the classroom.

“The goal is eventually training all—approximately 4,000—high school students,” said Cheryl Galloway, sustainability, mitigation and community engagement manager at Gilroy Unified School District. “The purpose is to help make Gilroy a HeartSafe Community in order to significantly improve heart attack survival rates.”

The odds of surviving a heart attack can drastically increase, she said, from 6 percent to as high as 60 percent if CPR is performed before emergency responders arrive.

“They are the next generation and if we can reach them in high school, throughout their lives they will have the confidence to step up and help save a life,” said Mary Gutierrez, EMF division chief at Gilroy Fire Department.

Once students are trained, they are provided with instructional packets and a specially designed manikin to take home so they can train their family and friends. For every two people the students train, they will receive one hour of community service credit.

One of the focuses of the training is the importance of doing chest compressions on a patient, said Gutierrez, as many people are intimidated by mouth-to-mouth.

“We will get so many more of our community involved if they know that all they need to do is compress the chest. This keeps oxygen moving around in the bloodstream and going to the brain,” she said.

The Gilroy Fire Department has started training upperclassmen at Gilroy Early College Academy (GECA) and will continue onto Gilroy, Christopher and Mt. Madonna high schools.

“We have about an hour with each class and use inflatable American Heart Association mannequins to teach hands-only CPR and AED [automated external defibrillator] awareness, including what it is, how it works and how you place the [defibrillation pad] on the patient,” said Gutierrez.

The school district earlier this year purchased 30 of the heart defibrillators, which are designed to be easy to use by anyone after a little training. When activated, AEDs give visual and audio prompts, so all one needs to do is follow directions.

“There will be one AED in the staff lounge at every GUSD site. The middle schools also have an AED in the gym. The two comprehensive high schools, Gilroy High and Christopher High, have four AEDs on site. Three are mounted units and then there is one portable unit to be carried out on the field during games,” said Galloway, adding that staff training on the devices started in June and should be complete by the end of this month.

“Sudden cardiac arrest occurs at all ages and by working early on in the program with athletic coaches, their ability to respond to an athlete in sudden cardiac arrest has a dramatically increased chance of survival,” said Galloway.

In addition to the 30 AEDs at the school district, there are publicly accessible units at City Hall, the senior center, Wheeler Center, the police department and at private businesses around town, including one at Snap Fitness, which earlier this year was used to save the life of Gilroy resident Joe Lomeli.

The overall goal of the city and its partners is for Gilroy to become a HeartSafe Community, which requires one-third of the population to be trained on how to use an AED and perform hands-only CPR. There would also be one AED for every 1,000 people—Gilroy’s population is approximately 55,000 people.

Leadership Gilroy, of which Gutierrez is a part, fundraised $15,000 over the last six months to purchase six AEDs to be installed at various community centers—places, she said, which get a lot of people passing through and are in strategic locations around the city.

Soon, AEDs will be installed at St. Joseph’s Family Center, Compassion Center, Hope Services, New Hope Community Church, Veterans Hall, and the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

“By the new year we should have 75 AEDs in the city, putting us well above the goal of having one per 1,000 residents,” said Gutierrez.

“I’ve been so impressed by the collaboration and vision of our entire community to reach that [HeartSafe Community] status,” said Gutierrez, who’s been in the fire service for 28 years, the majority of that time in larger cities like San Jose. “In our small city, you can really feel the difference.”

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