Then on May 4, 2012, English teacher Peter Greenhill collapsed in the doorway of the school nurse’s office.
Greenhill, a runner, biker and volleyball player who was about to turn 53, recognized that something was wrong during the school’s annual senior/faculty basketball game. He walked across a courtyard to the nurse’s office, where school nurse Shannon Yonamine and athletic trainer Louise Inafuku treated him with CPR and an AED until paramedics arrived.
Twice more over the next two years, the school’s AEDs were put to good use — for a parent who collapsed at a water polo match and an assistant baseball coach who had a heart attack.
“I think every school, every public place, every workplace should have them,” said Greenhill, who three days after his incident received an Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. Within weeks he was back to running, weight lifting and all his usual routines. Today, Greenhill describes his health as “tip top.”
The school’s AEDs, he said, “have already saved three lives.”
Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the U.S., leading schools across the country to use the American Heart Association’s CPR in Schools Training Kit to teach the life-saving technique. The easy-to-use kit incorporates the latest science.
Currently, laws in 19 states require CPR training for high school graduation. Hawaii is not one of them.
But getting AEDs into schools is often a challenge. The units range from $1,500 to $3,000 apiece.
A longtime American Heart Association volunteer and pediatric ER physician, Dr. Alson Inaba decided to make a direct appeal to ‘Iolani School in 2005. Inaba graduated from the school in 1979 and both of his sons attended.
He offered to bring a manikin to ‘Iolani to demonstrate the device’s safety. At that meeting, he guided a schoolteacher through the process.
“They were kind of surprised it was that easy,” Dr. Inaba said. “It will only deliver a shock if the person needs a shock; you can’t accidentally shock someone.”
The headmaster gave him the go-ahead to start an AED program at the private school, so Dr. Inaba walked through the campus to determine strategic locations for the devices. He recommended 13 spots in all.
In early 2012, the headmaster called Dr. Inaba to ask whether it was worthwhile to continue, noting they’d been paying for batteries all those years.
Dr. Inaba replied with a firm “Yes.”
All ninth-graders were becoming CPR-certified and learning how to use the AEDs and they were re-certifying in 11th grade. That alone seemed worthwhile.
“Even though it’s something you may not ever use, that one life you can save by having the AED available, that’s priceless,” nurse Yonamine said.
Three months after they almost abandoned the program, Greenhill collapsed.
“To see him in that state was definitely a shock, but you have to get over that within a second,” said athletic trainer Inafuku, who ran over with an AED and passed it to Yonamine, who was doing compressions. She then applied the pads to the teacher’s chest.
Yonamine shocked Greenhill twice; then paramedics arrived.
“Had it not been for the CPR/AED program, he would’ve died,” said Dr. Inaba.
Inafuku also came to the aid of both the parent and the coach who later needed CPR and AEDs.
“I’m a huge, huge advocate,” Inafuku said. “I understand that for most schools it’s a cost issue, but what is the cost of saving a life?”
During a sudden cardiac arrest, the chance of survival goes down by 7-10 percent for every minute that no one does CPR or uses an AED, Dr. Inaba said. There are only two techniques that statistics show save lives: immediate CPR and immediate use of an AED if needed.
Dr. Inaba encourages all schools to teach Hands-Only CPR, pushing hard and fast on the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. In fact, Dr. Inaba is the doctor who came up with the concept of using “Stayin’ Alive” to teach and remember the proper rate of chest compressions.
He also urges all schools to purchase AEDs and train people how to use them.
He cites statistics that illuminate the value. Survival rate from out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest is about 10 percent nationwide. Meanwhile, at Hawaii State Airport System, where Inaba also helped place AEDs in place, it is about 65 percent.
Weeks after his cardiac arrest, Greenhill joined the rest of the ‘Iolani faculty in marching at graduation. Today, he continues to speak out about the significance of AEDs and CPR programs in schools.