Radio NZ: Cardiac arrest survivor backs call for CPR to be taught in schools

A man whose friends did CPR on him in the playground when his heart stopped as a boy says all schools should teach the life-saving technique.

Kenneth Yew has added his voice to calls from the Resuscitation Council for the government to introduce CPR as a compulsory part of the curriculum, as British schools will do from 2020.

Mr Yew had a cardiac arrest out of the blue 11 years ago when he was a 16-year-old at Hillcrest High School in Hamilton.

He was playing with mates, fell down, and never got up.

His friends ran to get the school nurse, called the ambulance, then took turns helping the nurse with CPR and defibrillation by following her instructions.

The ambulance took 13 minutes to reach them – and just as it was pulling up Mr Yew’s heart was shocked back into life.

When done properly, CPR chest compressions are difficult for one person to maintain strongly for an extended period of time. Experts recommend rescuers take turns as the group that saved Mr Yew did, so they can ensure the compressions are strong and effective.

In hospital, doctors warned Mr Yew’s family the 13 minutes his heart had been stopped could have caused permanent brain damage. But they were amazed when he woke from the coma and was fine.

They told him the CPR saved him by keeping his brain healthy while his heart was stopped, and early defibrillation meant less time with his heart not circulating blood.

“I was just really grateful they were there and had someone to talk them through what to do,” Mr Yew said.

He believes widespread knowledge of CPR, familiarity with defibrillators and first aid skills could save lives.

“I’d rather equip these kids with the tools to be able to know how to react in those situations.

“When they need it, it could be their family member, it could be another friend. I don’t think they’re too young; I don’t think it should be a debate about whether it should be in the curriculum – these are life-saving skills.”

After a lot of tests, doctors diagnosed Mr Yew with Long QT syndrome, a defect in the timing of his heart’s rhythm. It makes his heart vulnerable, and they installed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator into his chest, designed to automatically shock his heart back into life if it ever stops again.

Mr Yew still keeps in touch with the three friends who helped save his life.

“I still thank them. We still get together for drinks.”

Resuscitation Council executive committee member Jonathan Webber said a small amount of time and money invested in classes at school could have a big pay-off.

“These skills can actually be done by school-aged children. Any attempt at resuscitation is better than none,” Mr Webber said.

“The CPR can double, if not triple, that person’s chance of survival, and a lot of cardiac arrests occur in the home, so there’s a high chance the person you do CPR on is someone you know – a family member or neighbour, as opposed to someone you just come across on the street.

“It just makes sense to implant these skills at a young age.”

In New Zealand, five people each day have cardiac arrests outside of hospital, and only 13 percent survive to be discharged from hospital.

“If more people were trained, if we had better access to community defibrillators, and we had a whole population trained and ready to respond, then we believe those numbers of survivors could actually be improved,” Mr Webber said.

The Resuscitation Council has had “initial discussions” with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education about their hopes of introducing CPR to schools.

Mr Webber said they would like to see class sets of teaching mannequins available and teacher training modules made available, so teachers can learn the skills to teach their students.

Originally published on Radio NZ.

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