June 23, 2018

Staying alive

WCS student provides CPR training

Jan. 19, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Fourteen-year-old Tommy Watson (above), an eighth-grader at Williston Central School, testified before the Vermont Senate Education Committee on Jan. 11 in support of a proposed bill that would make completion of CPR and automated external defibrillator training a secondary school graduation requirement. (Observer photos by Luke Baynes)

If your heart ever stops, you want Tommy Watson nearby.

Watson, an eighth-grader at Williston Central School, chose hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as his eighth-grade challenge topic.

On Jan. 11, Watson appeared at the Vermont State House in Montpelier to testify before the Senate Education Committee in support of a proposed bill that would make successful completion of CPR and automated external defibrillator training a mandatory condition of secondary school graduation. Iowa is currently the only state with such a law on the books.

“The reason I chose (hands-only CPR as) my topic was because I witnessed a heart attack,” Watson told the group of five senators, including Ginny Lyons (D-Williston). “It was in early October and it was an old man who fell to the ground having a cardiac arrest. There were about 100 adults there, and (only) one adult was comfortable doing CPR on him — and he was a nurse.

“So I thought if (the public is) not going to reach out to (organizations to learn CPR), I might as well reach out to the community and teach them hands-only CPR,” Watson said.

Although he was dressed in a dark sports coat and blue tie, a polyester leisure suit might have been more appropriate for Watson’s demonstration of proper chest compression technique. As he rhythmically pressed the chest of a blow-up mannequin, he explained that correct compression frequency can be obtained by mimicking the disco beat of the fittingly titled Bee Gees’ hit “Stayin’ Alive.”

“This topic is really important to me,” Watson said. “Of 800,000 (cardiac arrests) last year, 1 percent survived. That was just astonishing numbers to me, and the biggest reason was that people weren’t doing CPR on them.”

Tommy Watson

Several other people appeared before the Senate committee in support of the legislation, including Chris Bell, director of the Vermont Office of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Medical Services.

“The national numbers say that if no one starts CPR for the first 10 minutes (after cardiac arrest), the survival rate is approximately zero,” Bell said.

He explained that there is still enough oxygen circulating in the blood during the first several minutes of cardiac arrest to make hands-only CPR an effective — and sanitary — technique.

“Some people reported hesitancy to put their mouth on a stranger, but they’re certainly more willing to just do the chest compressions,” said Bell.

Lyons said she expects there to be a vote on the proposed legislation in “a couple weeks,” and said she believes the bill can be effectively enforced at the local level.

“If you put it into the rules, it tells the School Board to write a policy and to make it happen, and that’s how you know it’s being enforced,” Lyons said. “This is the kind of bill I love.”

As the proposed bill is currently written, secondary schools would be required to provide CPR training no later than the 2013-2014 academic year. The graduation requirement would apply to students graduating in 2015 or later.

Watson, whom Lyons referred to as “a really effective teacher,” had already trained 52 people in CPR by the time he appeared at the State House — and planned to train 40 to 50 Boy Scouts later that evening in the WCS cafeteria.

He said his determination to train as many people as possible stems from the cardiac arrest victim he witnessed, who didn’t survive.

“Even though the man didn’t survive, at least (the responder) gave him a chance of survival, which is the main goal,” Watson said. “So everyone has a chance if they have a heart attack — that’s the main goal of this entire project.”

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