Eight-year-old Gracie Singh was taking a bath by herself. When one of her mom's continuous checks yielded no response, she barged into the bathroom to find her child blue and under the water. Gracie had had a seizure. As her mom yelled for help, her older sister, Chloe, 13, rushed in and performed CPR, which she learned in school. Thankfully, Gracie soon started spitting up and began breathing again.
Gracie is one of more than 326,000 Americans who experience cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly stops) outside of a hospital every year—and 90% of them don't make it. Experts believe that's because those around them don't know how to perform CPR, which has to be administered within minutes.
Enter the American Heart Association's CPR in Schools Initiative, which brings CPR instruction directly into the classroom. "Schools provide a captive audience, and kids are very willing to help out," says Dianne Atkins, MD, professor of pediatrics and cardiology at the University of Iowa and an AHA spokesperson. Since CPR in Schools launched four years ago, 27 states (including, most recently, New York) have made CPR training a high school graduation requirement, and the program is on track to teach 1.5 million students every year. Gracie and Chloe are just one example of how valuable that training can be.
In another effort to help reduce the number of deaths from cardiac arrest, the AHA also recently updated its CPR guidelines. Bystanders are now urged to call 911, put dispatchers on speaker to give proper steps for care, and start providing breaths to the victim as soon as possible. While many bystanders are afraid they'll do something wrong and cause harm, there are few complications and risks to performing CPR—and they're way better than the alternative, says Atkins.