Learning CPR is not just dancing to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, and in Oyster River High School (ORHS) Exercise Physiology and Wellness (EPW) classes, students are taught the skill to actually help someone stay alive in a cardiac emergency situation.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving technique that involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to help someone who’s heart has stopped. It has been taught as a part of the EPW curriculum for over 30 years and although the course has slightly changed, the main point is the same: teach students how to save a life. Whether it’s a family member, a stranger, or even your teacher, it’s important to know how to respond in an emergency. Every staff member and almost every student in ORHS is CPR certified and many students have even incorporated that skill into their job. Many feel that being able to save a life is one of the most valuable things a person can learn and ORHS values teaching students the skill at a young age.
“I believe it is extremely important for anyone to have the basic skillset to save a life. Becoming CPR certified is a resource and tool that one can use when emergencies occur,” said ORHS nurse Kim Wolph. ORHS is one of few schools in New Hampshire that teaches CPR in school.
EPW teacher Don Maynard explained how ORHS “has always agreed to pay to get everyone certified.” The program is able to run with the help of McGregor EMS. Both EPW teachers Maynard and John Morin were able to become certified CPR instructors through McGregor as well. They supply the class with mannequins and other equipment needed. He said, “that helps a lot. If they weren’t right across the street, it would make it a lot tougher.”
According to the American Heart Association website, New Hampshire is part of the 20% of states that do not have CPR education requirement laws. So how and why does ORHS choose to teach CPR if it’s not required by law? Don Maynard, EPW teacher, said, “well, arguably, can you think of anything that would be more important [than learning] to save someone’s life? Really? We’ve had cases where kids or people that have taken our class have [even had to do that].”
ORHS woodshop teacher Mike Troy is a perfect example of that. “We all thought [teaching CPR] was very important. I thought it was very important. I just never realized that we would need to do it for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be the one having CPR performed on [and that was] what happened in 2012,” Troy said. Troy had the flu. He is an active, working guy with no other known health issues. However, he explained how the flu can attack any organ. For him, it was his heart. He was sitting in the middle of his room on September 10th, 2012 when his students noticed that he didn’t look so good. “I just fell out of the chair. [Students] said I hit the floor, hit my head, too. They didn’t know what was happening… The kids rolled me over and I was blue,” he said. Troy went into cardiac arrest which means his heart just stopped. “No warning, no nothing. Just done.”
Thankfully for Troy, a student in his class took charge. She told someone to get the nurse, someone else to get out in the hallway to find a teacher and somebody else to call 911. The gym teacher at the time, Amy McPhee, came and performed CPR alongside the school nurse until EMS arrived to help. Maynard recalled the day: “Unbelievable. To have [it happen] in front of the class. But again, it could happen anytime. You never know.”
Had the student not known how to react to Troy’s emergency situation, he may not have been here to tell his story. The American Heart Association website states, “some 350,000 cases [of cardiac arrest] occur each year outside of a hospital, and the survival rate is less than 12 percent. CPR can double or triple the chances of survival.”
Sabrina Golden (’23) babysits and found that being certified helped her find more jobs. “I think that I’m way more confident of a babysitter,” she said. “If something were to happen, I know CPR, I know who to call and I know the steps [which is reassuring].” Golden continued, “Just knowing CPR makes you a more confident person and it really can save a life at any time. I think the younger that you learn it, the better off everyone is.”
Cayden Giordani (’24) is a beach lifeguard and was certified for CPR through both lifeguarding and Scouts. He explained how he is confident in his skills to react in an emergency situation but that others may not feel comfortable enough to do CPR even with the training the school provides. “Most people know a little bit about CPR, but I feel like I know how to use an AED and do CPR [very well]. My training was more in depth.”
“I think it is important [to teach], but I feel like it’s really hard to teach in the school setting,” said Quinn Carlson (’25). Carlson is a lifeguard at UNH and was certified in both EPW and an outside class. He felt that “getting certified was easier after [learning in EPW], but I still didn’t remember everything. I wouldn’t want someone to take that and not remember everything and then be put in a situation where they’d have to do it,” he said.
Being put into a situation where someone has a cardiac emergency can be extremely shocking. Wolph shared that even if someone wasn’t certified or comfortable, “folks that are calm under pressure and can take direct orders are extremely useful to have nearby in an emergency. There are a lot of moving parts during an urgent event and having someone who can be a runner or a line of communication is so very helpful.” That was seen in Troy’s instance where the student got help quickly and adults took over for the actual CPR part.
Responding in a cardiac emergency is something that most people will never encounter in their day to day lives, however having the skills to save someone if it were to happen is extremely important. Even if students can’t perform chest compressions, they have the education to remain calm and figure out what to do. Maynard said, “I like to think the CPR is a class that most physical programs in the state aren’t doing. It’s one that I think helps to make ORHS better.”
– Libby Davidson