October 23, 2014

And the beat goes on

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Governor signs CPR bill into law at WCS

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston resident Tommy Watson trains Gov. Peter Shumlin in hands-only CPR on May 23 at WCS. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Gov. Peter Shumlin used two pens when he signed bill S.245 into law at Williston Central School on May 23.

He gave the first to Tommy Watson, the WCS eighth-grader whose hands-only CPR graduation challenge project spurred the passage of the bill.

The second pen went to Michelle Johnston, a sudden cardiac arrest survivor, whose presence at the event was living proof of the law’s benefit.

“The lesson in all of this is that each of us can do great things to help save lives, to make our state stronger and safer,” Shumlin said. “I’m very proud to sign this bill that the legislators worked so hard on. This is a simple way to save lives in Vermont.”

The newly signed law makes successful completion of hands-only CPR and automated external defibrillator training a mandatory condition of secondary school graduation. Iowa is the only other state with a similar law.

Watson, who had trained 267 people in CPR prior to teaching the governor and several others at the bill signing event, also addressed the packed WCS auditorium.

“I can’t stress enough how important CPR really is to everyone, and how easy it is to learn it, and I’m especially thankful that the governor can sign (the bill) today,” said Watson.

Williston State Rep. and Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig, speaking to the Observer after the event, likened the bill’s lengthy period of debate in the House and Senate to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” which Watson adopted as the theme song for his project because of its disco beat that mimics the correct compression frequency of CPR.

“This has been a two-year process to get this bill through, and once it got out of the Senate—finally, this year—I could sort of hear Tommy in the background, saying, ‘Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,’ because the bill kept on progressing,” Macaig said.

Senator Ginny Lyons (D-Williston) said she hopes the law will serve as a precursor for future mandates to improve the health and safety of Vermonters.

“We should have a ‘health day’ in all business environments—and that includes schools and other workplaces—where people could be trained in lifesaving techniques, whether it’s CPR, or the Heimlich maneuver or whatever,” said Lyons.

Watson, it’s safe to say, won’t rest on his laurels following the successful passage of the bill.

On June 4, he heads to New York City for an NBC media day, with the hope of appearing on the Today Show the following morning to demonstrate to a national audience the lifesaving benefits of hands-only CPR.

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