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Freshmen students at Esko High School practice CPR techniques during a recent health unit. All students participating in the class were certified in both CPR and AEDs by the American Heart Association.

Esko freshmen learn how to save lives

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The community of Esko is becoming a safer place to live —one freshman class at a time.

The school’s Freshmen Class of 2017 just completed certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)/ automated external defibrillator (AED) training.

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Thanks to the cooperation of Essentia Health and the Esko School District, Esko is one of the few districts in the state of Minnesota that require students to learn these lifesaving skills. This is the eighth year of the partnership between Esko and Essentia Health, resulting in some 800 students trained in lifesaving skills over the years.

“We’ve have a good working relationship with Essentia, who is our school’s sports medicine provider, for quite some time, and particularly with their athletic trainer Tom Nooyen,” said coach and student health instructor Sue Northey.

When the idea first came about to launch a mandatory CPR/AED class for all freshmen, Northey and Nooyen decided to “team teach” the course.

“It just kind of morphed into what it is today,” Northey said.

The program is funded through the district’s curriculum dollars with the cooperation of Essentia Health, who provides the rental of training equipment and mannequins.

About 100 freshmen students take the course each year. The unit is part of the freshmen health curriculum and consists of five 52-minute training sessions in adult CPR, child and infant CPR, utilization of an AED, recognizing a medical emergency and understanding the chain of first aid, including contacting 911 and working within an individual’s skill set until the time help arrives. The course also includes a “mini-unit” on choking, including what to do when a person is non-responsive.

“It’s all about empowering students to know they truly can help,” said Northey.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the U.S., but when ordinary people know CPR, a victim’s survival rate can double or even triple, according to the American Heart Association —hence, the value of teaching students in a school environment.  

 “Most of the students have either seen CPR performed someplace or have at least heard about it,” said Northey. “We want them to be aware that they can do it, too, and they don’t always have to wait for an adult in times of emergency. There’s always a role for everybody. Even with the Esko Fire Department right here in town, there’s usually a delay of at least three to five minutes before trained personnel can get there — sometimes longer if it’s a ways out of town. We try to instill in students the importance of the five minutes the oxygenated blood stays in the body, when they can administer chest compression and maximize the person’s chances of survival.”

The class works in groups of three, with each group assigned an individual mannequin to work on, with a total of 10 adult mannequins, 10 infant mannequins and three AEDs at their disposal. Each student is issued an individual mouthpiece barrier to prevent the spread of germs during the CPR training process.

The school also has two permanent AEDs, and Nooyen brings an additional AED to most sports events. Northey said the school normally has the need to utilize one of the AEDs at least once a year for a medical emergency or seizure.

“I believe more of our kids are now comfortable in grabbing one of the AEDs and using it, because they understand that it gives the victim a better chance of survival,” said Northey.

While the school doesn’t have any limitations on who can utilize the AEDs, Northey said an alarm goes off as soon as the AED is removed from its holder to alert others that there is an emergency in progress.

“AEDs are very user friendly,” explained Northey. “There are step by step instructions, both audio and visual, and you can’t really do anything wrong. They are way smarter than we are!”

 An AED is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses life threatening cardiac arrhythmias and, according to the AHA, is able to treat them through defibrillation —the application of electrical therapy— which stops the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.

The Esko students are certified by the American Heart Association at the end of the course, a certification which is good for the next two years. After that, Northey said the school is looking at offering a three-hour after-school refresher course, possibly through the school’s continuing education curriculum.

Freshman Judy Wagemaker, 15, said the school’s CPR/AED course served as a great review for her, since she’d taken instruction in both the summer before.

“It was nice to be able to go over it again,” said Wagemaker, “since there is a lot to remember.”

She acknowledged that the training and information is “really nice to know in an emergency situation.”

“There’s a lot of adrenalin flowing at times like that,” she said. “It’s good to know that we can do what we need to do to help out.”

Fellow classmate Nathan Sunde, 14, agreed that knowledge of CPR/AED is valuable information to have, particularly since he knows a number of older folks who have heart and lung problems.

“Realizing they might have problems at some point in time, I like to know there’s a way I might be able to help out,” he stated.

Taylor Brownie, 15, grew up knowing how critical emergency response can be, since both of her parents have been paramedics.

“It’s very important to learn about CPR and AEDs,” she said, “and I really liked knowing how to save someone’s life.”

Brownie said she’d definitely take any refresher course on the subject that the school decides to offer, believing that if the procedures can become second nature to her the more likely will be her chances of success when and if she ever has to use it.

Esko High School finds itself in the enviable position of being well ahead of the curve in its CPR/AED training. Governor Mark Dayton signed a law into effect in April 2013 that will require all school districts in the state to provide CPR/AED training as part of their curriculums in grades 7-12 starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

 “You can’t really plan for emergencies to happen,” said Northey. “The best thing is to prepare for them in case they do.”

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