How young is too young to save a life? The answer may be younger than you thought.
Under a novel community service project orchestrated by a Chicago emergency physician, a class of fifth-graders not only got an interactive, up-close-and-personal education on sudden cardiac arrest, CPR and defibrillation, they relayed important information out to their community and contributed to growing global databases that map AEDs for when they’re needed.
“We wanted to teach the kids about cardiac arrest and CPR and AEDs, but also about the idea of self-reliance—that sometimes the adults will need their help,” says David Beiser, MD, FACEP, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago. “One of our central themes was that even a fifth-grader can save a life. When an adult has a cardiac arrest—and that’s much more likely than a child having a cardiac arrest—a child who’s properly trained can potentially step in and provide a lifesaving intervention.”
The children who demonstrated that came from Beiser’s son’s class, 10- and 11-year-olds at a local laboratory school. Beyond learning what cardiac arrest is and what to do about it, their project involved mapping AEDs in their neighborhood, and in doing so raising awareness of the devices’ purpose, where to find them and how to use them when a life is on the line.
It all started at last year’s American Heart Association conference, where Beiser noted a push to record AED locations in comprehensive databases. One such endeavor is the iRescU project, an effort led by EMS safety expert Nadine Levick, MD, to map AEDs around the world and provide their location information, along with CPR help, to users via smart phones and various social media platforms. With iRescU and similar projects, AED locations are contributed and updated by crowd-sourcing; anyone who knows of one is invited to submit it.
That seemed within the realm of bright fifth-graders in need of a service project. “The idea,” says Beiser, “was that we could combine community awareness, through the mapping, and health education. You can’t just put a bunch of slides in front of fifth-graders and hope they understand something like this. You have to make it real.”
Making It Real
Nonetheless, the day of the project began with a lecture. Beiser told the kids they’d not only be getting his normal college-level material, but because they were especially bright, he’d be compressing two weeks’ worth of content into an hour. “I told them to get their notebooks out, and they all kind of looked at my son,” Beiser chuckles. “They were all shooting him glances, like, Your dad’s really mean!” Then he started in on cardiovascular physiology, escalating rapidly in complexity.
That set the stage for the real act: An observing parent suddenly feigned a cardiac arrest (hammily overacted, so as to not truly alarm any children). The lecture then gave way to a simulated rescue that involved calling 9-1-1, dispatcher-guided CPR and application of an AED. “That,” Beiser says, “really started things off in a hands-on manner.”
It was followed by a cardiac arrest survivor—a top-level young athlete who’d collapsed playing basketball. She told her story and fielded questions. By this time the students were wholly engaged, wanting to know what it felt like to have a cardiac arrest and be shocked, what she was thinking during the experience, and about her new implanted defibrillator.
“They really started to understand what cardiac arrest was, and I’ll tell you, that is no small feat,” says Beiser. “Most of the public equate cardiac arrest with heart attack. I do cardiac arrest research, and even my family thinks I research heart attacks. It’s an important distinction, but I think the kids really understood that a cardiac arrest is when the heart stops, there’s no blood flow, and the person is essentially dead.”