When Olathe East High School students got their state-mandated CPR training this winter, freshman Seth Johnson couldn’t fully participate because of a broken collarbone.
But he was paying close attention.
Two weeks after the training, Seth, his arm still in a sling from a lacrosse injury, helped his older sister, Claire, use CPR to save their dad when he went into cardiac arrest.
Call it a hands-on follow-up lesson.
“Just do whatever it takes,” Seth, 14, said he learned. “Don’t be too scared to do CPR if it’s happening.”
Seth and Claire, an Olathe East senior, were both home Feb. 15 because of a snow day.
Their 52-year-old father, Mark, was in the kitchen making lunch when he told Seth he suddenly wasn’t feeling well. He sat down on the couch, but then things got worse.
“He was kind of grunting and I didn’t know what was going on, so I just yelled his name and he wouldn’t respond,” Seth said.
Hearing the yells, Claire ran in, and the two of them pulled their dad off the couch and laid him flat. He wasn’t breathing. Claire told Seth to call 911, and then she started CPR.
Claire had the same training course at Olathe East but also had been CPR certified as a lifeguard her sophomore year. She knew what she was doing, but after about four minutes of heavy chest compressions she was spent, and Seth had to take over.
“It was really exhausting,” said Claire, 18. “I couldn’t imagine doing it anymore. If Seth wasn’t there I would have (tried), but it helped a lot that he was.”
About two minutes later the paramedics arrived and took over, doing chest compressions and shocking Mark three times with an automatic external defibrillator.
He spent five days in the hospital, but has since made a full recovery.
“I went to the gym with him just the other day actually,” Claire said.
Claire and Seth both said their dad’s brush with death has brought their family closer. They spend more time together now and they don’t take for granted that they will always have one another.
Mark said he doesn’t remember much from that day. But he does remember waking up in the hospital and being told the story several times as he tried to get reoriented. Every time, he got emotional thinking about his kids’ poise under pressure.
He said a relative’s father had died years earlier under similar circumstances.
“Basically he had a heart attack at home and his wife and daughter were there and they didn’t really know what to do and they lost him,” Mark said. “Thankfully my kids had learned CPR — my son just two weeks earlier. Everything was a miracle.”
The American Heart Association has lobbied for CPR training in schools, and as of last year 38 states — including Kansas and Missouri — had enacted laws requiring it. Kansas’ law was passed in 2017, but some school districts had been doing the training long before that.
Sudden cardiac arrest kills almost 350,000 victims every year, and causes brain damage in an unknown number of people who survive it.
In the last two years most emergency dispatch systems in the Kansas City area have connected themselves to PulsePoint, a smartphone app that alerts CPR-certified users when someone near them is in cardiac arrest.
Claire and Seth said they encourage others to get CPR training, and not be afraid to put it to use.
“Always jump into action,” Claire said. “Even if it doesn’t end up working, at least you tried.”
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