CPR push in high schools hopefully spares heartache

Nov 23, 2015

Every high school student in New York State will now learn CPR before graduation.  The recent mandate from the State Board of Regents follows a push from the American Heart Association and a contingent of dedicated CPR instructors, who know just how vital the life-saving skill can be.

The Emily Rose Foundation is named after a young Akron girl whose life was cut short without warning.

“Last day of school in 2009, in June of her freshman year, at the age of 14, my daughter suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at a soccer practice and took her last breath in my arms,” recalls Annette Adamczak as she remembers her daughter Emily’s last moments.

Annette Adamczak founded the Emily Rose Foundation in honor of her daughter to teach high school students hands-only CPR.
Credit Cheryl Hagen/WBFO News Photo

The tragedy has since inspired Adamczak to work tirelessly to create an army of lifesavers to ensure no family ever has to endure a similar heartbreak. She’s teamed up with the American Heart Association and, to date, has taught hands-only CPR to 19,000 students in upstate New York.

“We teach the kids how to recognize signs of someone in a medical emergency,” says Adamczak. “We go through the American Heart Association’s chain of survival.” 

Adamczak says students learn each step from ensuring the scene is safe to recognizing when CPR is necessary. She notes they teach students hands-only CPR which can sustain life in the average adult for 6-8 minutes while waiting for help to arrive.

“The sooner you start CPR on someone that collapses due to a sudden cardiac arrest, the more likely they are too survive,” says Adamczak. “If you can start CPR within the first two minutes, you can double or triple that victim’s chance of survival just by pushing hard and pushing fast.”

On this day, Adamczak was joined at Lancaster High School by a contingent of CPR instructors ranging from a former Air Force Medic and a hero police officer to the teenager whose life the officer saved by doing CPR just a few years earlier on the school’s recreational fields.

Lancaster Senior J.J. Pesany shows students how to do hands-only CPR.
Credit Cheryl Hagen/WBFO News Photo

“It was really eye opening what happened to me,” says J.J. Pesany. “I thought that everyone should know it because you never know when a freak accident could happen.”

Pesany, now a varsity football player, recalls very little about the day he collapsed. He learned CPR at the request of Lancaster Police Officer Keith Kerl, who helped save his life. Kerl has since joined the effort to teach students CPR.

“It’s got to have a ripple effect to save lives, it just has to,” says Kerl. “Somebody’s going to be in the right place, at the right time. Hopefully, if somebody goes into cardiac arrest, there’s going to be thousands and thousands of people out there who are trained and jump in and do this easy thing.”  

Former Air Force Medic Mike Zaidel has been working alongside Adamczak since she began her push to teach students the lifesaving skill.

CPR Instructor Mike Zaidel works with students during a hands-only CPR training session at Lancaster High School.
Credit Cheryl Hagen/WBFO News Photo

“It’s important that we help each other,” says Zaidel. “It doesn’t matter if we need help loading a shopping cart or helping somebody shovel their driveway. CPR is about helping people.”

The hands-only CPR training sessions are set to music, which makes it fun for students to learn the skill.

“It’s pretty cool cause now if someone passes out and I’m there I could save their life," says Leslie, a sophomore at Lancaster High School. She was one of several students expressing confidence in being able to carry out CPR if it ever becomes necessary.

Adamczak has visited schools to tell her daughter’s story and teach hands only CPR beginning with her hometown of Akron and traveling everywhere from Depew and Lancaster to Williamsville and Olean.

“I won’t lie to you and tell you it’s not difficult. There are certain classes that I can walk in a room, and I will look at someone and I’ll see something that resembles my daughter’s smile or someone will laugh and I will see my daughter from start to finish,” says Adamczak. “The thing that pushes us through and gets us to the end of the class, this is almost like a gift from Emily. This is being done in her memory. I know that we are going to teach some young adult how to save another’s life and it’s going to make the difference in some family.”

Adamczak was one of several people across New York who joined the Heart Association’s push to have the State Board of Regents mandate that students learn CPR before high school graduation, a measure the board finally approved in October.

What would Emily say if she could see her mom now?

“She’d probably be laughing and saying you’re not sleeping again mom,” says Adamczak. “But for the most part, I’m hoping she would be proud of what we accomplished. We are so thankful that the local representatives saw that this was important and it’s something that we should teach our kids. We teach them how to spell. We teach them how to add. Why not teach them how to save a life?”

Adamczak was recently part of an American Heart Association TV special called “CPR in America” that aired nationally on public TV stations. The special focused on hands-only CPR and told stories of both survivors and lives lost.