Two Father's Days ago, Pat Swan of Woodland Hills planned to celebrate by watching his daughter, Clare, graduate from the University of California, San Diego.
Unfortunately, his day didn't work out quite as planned. As Swan drove to campus minutes before the ceremony, his wife, Giannina, complained that she felt faint, then slumped over in the back seat. The next thing Swan heard were anxious cries from his two teen-age sons: "Breathe, Mom! Breathe!"
Swan's first thought was to speed to the nearest hospital, relying on sons Rob and Jack to help him find the way. Then he remembered that Rob, now 19, had taken a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. "Give her CPR!" he shouted.
Rob wasn't sure he could remember the technique well enough to do any good, but he tried anyway. When the Swans arrived at a hospital minutes later, a doctor quickly took over the care of Giannina Swan, whose problem was eventually diagnosed as a cardiac rhythm disturbance. After a six-day hospitalization, she was pronounced healthy enough to leave.
"The doctor said she wouldn't have made it without that little bit of oxygen" provided by CPR, Swan recalled recently.
250 Lives Saved Every Day
Although stories such as Swan's may sound like television movie fantasy, they are real--and plentiful. Every day, 250 lives are saved because of CPR, according to estimates by the American Medical Assn. Since the introduction of CPR 25 years ago, thousands of lives have been saved nationwide.
In the last 10 years, more than 50 million Americans have been trained in the technque. The bulk of instruction is provided by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Assn., which earlier this month announced new guidelines designed to simplify CPR classes, make them more effective and attract more students.
In the last few years, however, such CPR training has become the subject of a simmering debate among medical experts. On one side are advocates of CPR training, who point to studies showing that immediate CPR often increases survival chances. On the other side are those who claim that CPR is overrated and that the emphasis should shift from training to more immediate access to professional help and equipment.
Yet, despite recent questions raised about the value of CPR training, the American Academy of Pediatrics in its February, 1986, newsletter, called for the nation's schools to institute such programs for all students in grades 8 through 12.
Pro-CPR Ranks Growing
Growing numbers of Valley teachers, parents and other residents have recently joined the pro-CPR ranks, frustrated at how few schools comply with a little-known state mandate calling for CPR instruction in the schools, some Valley residents have begun efforts to make the training a regular part of health and safety classes.
The 1977 provision in the state Education Code calls for CPR instruction in health and safety classes "when appropriate equipment is available."
Shortly after the provision went into effect, several Valley schools did provide such training, according to Ruth Rich, an instructional specialist for health education for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "In 1979, we were able to initiate instruction in 20 schools with the help of grants from the American Heart Assn.," she said.
But, as the grant money ran out, the programs languished. And other schools, lacking grant money altogether, found it impossible to provide funds for the equipment--such as manikins and other materials--or for the necessary teacher training, and escaped implementation of the code through the equipment loophole.
Now, however, CPR programs are making a comeback in some Valley schools, thanks to the efforts of teachers, parents and other community members. Proponents are hopeful that the few pilot programs now operational will be used as models by other schools and spawn widespread availability of classroom CPR instruction.
Pilot programs to teach CPR on a regular basis in 10th-grade health courses began two months ago in Woodland Hills at William Howard Taft and El Camino Real high schools, where an estimated 1,600 students a year will learn CPR.
The pilot programs are the result of a joint effort of the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce and a CPR committee organized under the direction of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The committee, chaired by Shirley George of the 31st District Parent Teacher Assn., includes representatives from the American Heart Assn. and the community.
The committee secured $8,600 in donations from the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce, which included $7,350 from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills, to pay for equipment and training. The money funded all equipment in a five-year follow-up maintenance program, said Joan Parrish, another representative of the 31st District PTA who also serves on the committee.
The committee is now applying for grants from major foundations to finance the program permanently.
Meanwhile, another effort to incorporate CPR training into 10th-grade safety classes has been under way for several years at Burbank High School.
About three years ago, Bill Larson, a guidance counselor and former safety teacher at Burbank High, began teaching CPR, borrowing manikins from the American Red Cross. Last year he received a $2,000 grant from the Classroom Teacher Instructional Improvement Program, enabling him to buy manikins.
"Over the past two years, about 700 students have taken CPR," he said.
Parrish, Larson and others involved in the effort said they were influenced partly by student deaths. In one case, no bystanders came forward to give CPR; in another, CPR attempts were futile.
In the classes, instructors emphasize that the students' role is to provide immediate first aid until professional medical help can be obtained. "We encourage students to be able to respond immediately to an emergency and to keep the body biologically alive until help comes," said Leon Fenwick, a health teacher at El Camino High who has just completed teaching a CPR course.
Students' response to the training, which usually includes at least three class periods and is not recommended for children younger than 13, has been overwhelmingly positive. Most students are interested, see the benefits and know CPR instruction is important, said Bob Weinberg, health department chairman at Taft High.
"I try to personalize it for them by reminding them it could help their parents or grandparents.
"Also, we have a lot of kids who are camp counselors and who are around swimming pools," he said. "And, for all the kids who baby-sit, knowing CPR is important."
Knowledge of CPR is also vital, Weinberg said, during earthquakes, fires and other disasters.
Some students put their new skills into practice more quickly than they imagine. Two weeks after learning how at El Camino High, Jason Cardenas, 15, helped give CPR to a man who collapsed at a Canoga Park racquetball club.
Saved 3-Year-Old Brother
Two years ago, Brandon Beckner, now 18 and a senior at Burbank High, rescued his brother, then 3, from the family swimming pool about six months after taking CPR. "I gave him CPR for about five minutes," Beckner remembered recently, "and then the paramedics came. They said he would have been a lot worse off without CPR."
Some students who have learned CPR tell other family members of its importance and persuade them to enroll in courses sponsored by the American Red Cross, local fire departments, hospitals or the American Heart Assn.
Said Wayne Rothstein, a 16-year-old El Camino sophomore who learned the value of CPR from his paramedic sister: "My whole family knows it now."
Some proponents of compulsory CPR instruction contend that there are no excuses for disobeying the state mandate. If equipment costs are prohibitive, they said, it's often possible to borrow manikins and other materials from the Red Cross or other agencies.
"And, if teachers don't know how to instruct CPR," Larson said, "the next best thing is to give extra credit for young people to go out and take CPR through the local fire department or other sources."
"CPR is a basic tool that every community member ought to know," contends Parrish. "You just never know when you'll need that training."