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Cheektowaga students learning to save lives

Annette Adamczak believes that two hands and a little knowledge could have saved her daughter’s life.

That’s why she has made it her mission to teach hands-only CPR – so that those suffering from cardiac arrest have a fighting chance.

Adamczak recently brought this message to Cheektowaga Central High School, which for a second year is teaching all students hands-only CPR as part of physical education classes. That’s between 800 and 900 students, according to Michael Fatta, physical education curriculum coordinator and teacher.

The lessons begin with Adamczak’s story of losing her 14-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, to sudden cardiac arrest while she practiced soccer on the Akron town fields in June 2009. Emergency medical technicians were not required to be at practices.

“I caught her on the way down, and she collapsed,” Adamczak said.

Emily had experienced fainting spells while exercising and suffered from low blood pressure, but she was cleared to play sports. About 25 children were on the field when she collapsed, but none of them knew what to do.

Adamczak believes if CPR were still a part of every school’s curriculum, Emily’s teammates would have been able to assist her.

“I learned it in high school,” she said. “It was part of our health class.”

According to the American Heart Association, which established the guidelines for CPR, hands-only CPR has been shown to be as effective as the conventional method and can double or triple the victim’s chance of survival.

While it isn’t full certification, hands-only is easier to teach, and good Samaritans are likely to be more comfortable performing it than mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, said Jennifer Pratt, senior regional director of communications for the association.

Before her daughter’s death, Adamczak worked for a small construction company and raised a family, but after, she began volunteering with the association. In 2010, she organized a CPR certification class in Akron that attracted 188 residents. In 2011, she joined Rural/Metro as a certified CPR instructor to bring hands-only lessons to interested districts.

Since the 2011-12 academic year, the program has been presented to 10,000 students in about a dozen districts in Erie, Orleans and Genesee counties.

Students learn that when they see a teen or adult has collapsed and has no pulse, someone should dial 9-1-1 and administer chest compressions to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. They also gain practice in using an automated external defibrillator.

The music associated with the lessons helped to keep students engaged, said sophomore Natalie McGill, 15. She feels fairly confident in her ability to help others now.

“It showed me I have some power in the situation,” she said.

Junior Antoinette Weatherspoon, 16, was grateful for the lessons.

“Once you get going, you know you’re doing something right,” she said. “It makes you feel good about yourself.”

While Rural/Metro has sponsored the classes, Adamczak said that the goal is to have districts sustain the new lessons on their own after a couple years, either by having staff or fire department EMTs teach the course.

Brian Gould, Cheektowaga Central School Board president and chief of the Bellevue Volunteer Fire Co., said the board brought the program to the school in order to teach life-saving skills and instill in students the desire to help the community.

“I do truly believe it is just a matter of time until one of our students takes place in a life-saving event,” he said.

At the end of each lesson, students learn that if they perform CPR and it doesn’t work, it is all right to feel sad, but they also should feel proud because the alternative would have been to do nothing.

“You just keep trying,” Adamczak tells her students. “You just keep pushing.”