High school students in Delaware will learn how to perform CPR as part of their graduation requirements under a curriculum change recently adopted by the state’s Board of Education.

The move makes Delaware the 20th state requiring CPR training as a high school graduation requisite and will mean nearly 8,500 more students will learn the lifesaving skill every year.

“After many years of hard work by American Heart Association advocates and volunteers in Delaware, we’re going to ensure that a new generation of lifesavers is prepared year in and year out for the future,” said Jonathan Kirch, the association’s government relations director in Delaware.

The change to the high school health curriculum – required for graduation – will begin in the 2015-2016 school year. It will incorporate Hands-Only CPR, which involves giving immediate chest compressions to an adult or teen who collapses suddenly.

Delaware’s Board of Education approved the addition of CPR to the curriculum on Oct. 9. The state legislature had passed an appropriations bill in July, devoting $40,000 to help fund needed equipment and training materials.

Of the roughly 424,000 Americans who have a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year, only 40 percent get CPR from a bystander and only about 10 percent survive. Most people don’t know how to use automated external defibrillators, which deliver an electric shock to stop cardiac arrest, although they’re becoming more widely available.

Bystander CPR can double or triple survival rates from cardiac arrest. However, many people do not get help from bystanders who could provide CPR if they knew how.

With CPR training in schools, there is a guarantee that a set number of people will be trained each year.

“People understand that CPR is important, but schools provide a captive audience of folks. It teaches good citizenship. We know folks may want to learn CPR but they just find an excuse not to. This way, everybody has a minimum baseline understanding of how to do compressions and everybody can do that,” Kirch said.

American Heart Association volunteer advocates and staff worked for seven years to get CPR in Schools legislation passed in Delaware.

Grace Firestone

Stew Krug, who lost his son Matthew to cardiac arrest at a neighborhood pool, was one of the volunteers who visited with school and state officials and advocated for the change. He sits on the national board of Parent Heart Watch, an organization that also lent its support.

Kirch said that five or six years into the effort he was “introduced to a young lady named Grace Firestone.” Two days after Firestone graduated from high school, her older brother started CPR seconds after she collapsed.

“It’s a miracle that she survived,” Kirch said. “She’s doing very, very well and is planning to go to medical school now.”

Her story helped garner the necessary support, said Kirch, adding that miracles could happen more often if people knew what to do.

With 20 states now requiring CPR training for graduation, nearly 38 percent of all students in the U.S. will learn CPR.

Delaware joins Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

“This new curriculum in Delaware is going to save lives,” Kirch said. “It’s going to be the difference between life and death for cardiac arrest victims and that’s going to be amazing.”

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