During his lunch hour at New York City's Barnes Intermediate School, Brandon Williams noticed his classmate Jessica Pellegrino choking on a chunk of apple. Williams acted quickly and performed the Heimlich maneuver perfectly — he wrapped his arms around Pellegrino's stomach, gave a sharp thrust and the apple popped out. As Pellegrino explained later, the apple skin had lodged in her throat so that she wasn't able to breathe. Williams, who was given a class party to celebrate his heroic act, said he learned the Heimlich from watching SpongeBob on TV.
While this story isn't giving us any hard evidence to support our kids watching even more TV, it does bring up one powerful truth: Kids are capable of more than we give them credit for. Children of all ages can absorb first aid techniques that could be used to save a life. If one student picked up the Heimlich from his Saturday morning cartoons and was able to save a classmate, just think of how much these kids could learn from taking a real CPR class.
We hear a lot about CPR and first aid, but most of these messages are directed at adults. In light of tragic cases like 7-year-old Noelia Echavarria's recent choking death in the lunchroom or 2-year-old Jacob Jenkins' death after choking on a grape at Pizza Hut, parents, teachers and caregivers are urged to stay up to date on their CPR. Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe what happened to these kids, when you think about the fact that so many choking deaths are easily prevented when you know the right technique to use, like Williams did. Echavarria's parents are rightly outraged because no one helped their daughter when she choked on a sandwich in the cafeteria.
No matter who is standing on the scene, whether it's a teacher or a 13-year-old boy, it's this first response that is most critical. BE CPR confirms that while a child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S., reviving a child (or an adult) within the first four minutes makes brain damage the least likely. The only way to successfully revive an adult or a child who has choked or collapsed within that window is to know basic CPR. Depending on where you live in the country, an ambulance could come in up to 10 minutes — which may be six minutes too late, if no one knows how to offer help until the paramedics arrive.
Just like adults, younger children and teens can benefit from learning the same CPR and choking response skills at an age-appropriate level. The American Red Cross provides a layman's emergency response course for family and friends, without CPR certification. The American Red Cross also offers certified babysitter training, along with local (and free) youth preparedness classes. Middle school and high schoolers may get some of these valuable skills from health class, and parents can introduce younger children to the basics with an online tutorial.
We teach our kids all the important stuff, like looking both ways and not talking to strangers, but more often than not, CPR is left out of the conversation. Making CPR training normal and encouraged for children is one big step in the right direction. Kids who feel prepared can remain calm in an emergency and, like Williams showed us, may even save a life.
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