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New Michigan Law Requires CPR Training
for High School Students

By Hadley Turner

In the continued fight against sudden cardiac death among young athletes, Michigan has passed a law to require hands-on, guidelines-based CPR training for all high school students before they graduate.

Michigan joins the ranks of 34 states and the District of Columbia that have either passed laws or adopted curriculum changes requiring CPR training for high-schoolers.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the new law December 28, 2016. It states that Michigan high-schoolers will learn CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) before graduation beginning with the 2017–2018 school year. This will result in roughly 100,000 more CPR-trained Michiganians every year.

“We’re hoping this will help increase survival rates across all Michigan communities and beyond,” says pediatric cardiologist Monica Martin Goble, MD, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Congenital Heart Center and an American Heart Association (AHA) volunteer. “The fact that the law includes a hands-on component should increase its effectiveness,” because it’s a simple skill to teach and remember, Goble says.

“Given that CPR can be a simple, lifesaving measure for anyone, I’ve always felt that training for CPR should be incorporated into general health education for high school students, college, and even for employment,” says Jenna Bell, PhD, RD, a sports nutrition expert and coauthor of Energy to Burn: The Ultimate Food and Nutrition Guide to Fuel Your Active Life.

Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND, who specializes in fitness and cardiovascular disease prevention, agrees: “This is an extraordinary law that will clearly save thousands of lives,” she says, adding that she hopes other states will continue to follow suit.

In the now 35 states and the District of Columbia combined, more than 2.1 million high school students each year will be trained in CPR.

High Risk in Young Athletes
Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death in student athletes. It’s usually the result of a congenital defect in the heart’s structure or electrical circuitry, the most common cause being hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, enlarged heart muscle. Young athletes particularly are at risk because they often overexert themselves and warning signs are rare. Unless students undergo an EKG, required physical exams to participate in school sports fail to identify genetic risk factors in as many as 60% to 80% of sudden cardiac death cases in young athletes, according to an April 2013 New York Times article. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimated in 2012 that 2,000 youths (under age 25) would be killed by sudden cardiac arrest annually in the United States.

Families Supporting the Bill
Michigan high-schoolers who had friends that experienced sudden cardiac arrest supported the bill. For example, high school seniors Tyler Menhart and best friend Noah Weeda testified in support of the bill.

Weeda collapsed during soccer drills in April 2015 at Northview High School in Grand Rapids. Menhart called 911 and used the CPR skills he’d learned as a Boy Scout. Weeda survived.

Also supporting the bill are the families of Wes Leonard, who died in 2011 at age 16 after a high school basketball tournament; Kayla Stanford, who died at 13 after track practice in 2006; and Kimberly Gillary, who died at 15 during a water polo match in 2000.

Average Survival Rate
According to the AHA, more than 350,000 Americans suffer sudden cardiac arrests outside a hospital each year, and only 12% survive. For each minute that passes without CPR or defibrillation, the chances of survival decrease by 7% to 10%.

That gives emergency medical services (EMS) very little time to get to victims, which is why bystander CPR is so important, says Brad Dornbos, a firefighter and EMS coordinator for the City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety Fire Services in Michigan.

“Those first extra few minutes are critical until we show up,” says Dornbos, who also testified in support of the bill.

He says only a handful of Michigan schools were currently teaching CPR training. The new law changes that.

Tips for RDs
As state-by-state awareness and training increase in response to the need to save more student athletes’ lives, dietitians can help fill the knowledge gap during nutrition counseling sessions. RDs who advise young athletes should be aware of the risks and prevalence of sudden cardiac death and impart this information to young clients and their families. Other ways to promote prevention among clients can include the following:

  • Thoroughly document family medical history of cardiovascular defects, congenital or otherwise.
  • Ask clients whether they’ve experienced potential symptoms, especially during intensive exercise (eg, shortness of breath, dizziness).
  • Consult with and/or refer clients to a sports cardiologist before participating or continuing to participate in sports.
  • Suggest young athletes be screened via an EKG. Screen Across America is a consortium of organizations that provide heart screenings—sometimes for free—for students. A list of local organizations by state can be found on their website here.
  • Encourage sports teams, schools, and states to pass requirements like Michigan’s for CPR/AED training.
  • Join Parent Heart Watch, a nonprofit that advocates for education and legislation to prevent sudden cardiac death in children and provides resources and news for parents.

RDs also can become certified in CPR and AED use themselves and recommend that clients, in high school or otherwise, receive CPR training. “Why not have the skills to assist in a crisis situation?” Bell says. “You could make a remarkable impact on a person’s chance of survival if you have these basic skills.”

— Hadley Turner is an editorial assistant for Today’s Dietitian.