Lisa Smith head shot 2For more than 20 years, Lisa Smith has taught CPR to students and colleagues in Denver, providing training as many as 30 times a year.

The question she often heard was whether she’d ever performed CPR in an emergency.

No, she would say, adding, “I hope I could just jump in if a situation arose, especially since it’s usually someone you know.”

That’s exactly what happened on Nov. 20, 2014, in the weight room of Denver East High School.


Smith teaches honors Health and Medical Science classes, with HeartSaver CPR/AED/First Aid as part of her curriculum. She’s also the school’s head athletic trainer.

On this fateful morning, she was on campus at about 6 a.m. to monitor the cheerleading squad as they practiced stunts for an upcoming competition.

She happened to be in the assistant principal’s office, with the doors open to both the gym and the hallway, when she heard a commotion in the hallway and went to see what was happening.

Two security guards running out of their office said that assistant principal Wes Ashley collapsed in the weight room. Another colleague already had called 9-1-1.

That’s when Smith took charge.

She instructed the guards to get the automated external defibrillator (AED) from the emergency cabinet in the office. Then she raced to the weight room.

“I knew that if I didn’t do something, he might not survive,” she said.

Research shows that although effective CPR provided by a bystander immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival, only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.

Lack of training, or unease about taking action is key factor. Statistics show that 70 percent of Americans may feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed.

As a trained CPR instructor, Smith knew exactly what to do.


As Smith entered the weight room, she saw Ashley lying on the floor, his face bloodied from his fall. She rubbed his clavicle to see if he would respond and quickly checked for a pulse.

There was none.

Just as she prepared to start chest compressions, the AED arrived. So she went straight to that step, placing the pads on Ashley’ chest for the machine to analyze his heart rhythm. It instructed Smith to deliver a shock.

Once it was safe to touch him again after the shock, she began chest compressions and began delivering breaths.

She continued to perform CPR until the AED instructed her to stop so it could analyze his heart rhythm a second time. This time, no shock was needed. Ashley had a pulse and Smith could see that he was breathing on his own.

The paramedics arrived and took Ashley to the hospital, where he received two stents to open major blockages of coronary arteries. He also received a pacemaker.

Lisa Smith (right) and Wes Ashley

Lisa Smith (right) and Wes Ashley

“Many things went right that day,” Smith wrote in an email to the American Heart Association.


After so many years of teaching CPR, Smith was happy to find that when she needed the skills, she was able to act quickly and without hesitation.

“It was really easy,” she said. “I knew what had to be done.”

The American Heart Association helped pioneer CPR over 50 years ago, and continues to refine this lifesaving technique. The organization trains more than 15 million people each year in 60-plus countries. Even without formal training, anyone can be a lifesaver by remembering the steps to Hands-Only CPR – call 9-1-1, then push hard and fast in the center of the chest, preferably to the beat of the classic disco song, “Stayin’ Alive” until help arrives. The AHA also encourages states to pass laws to train high school students in CPR before they graduate, putting more potential lifesavers into our communities. There’s no statewide legislation yet in Colorado, where Smith works.

News of Smith’s lifesaving act spread throughout the school. Students, faculty and administrators congratulated her. Some also asked for training or a refresher on their life-saving skills.

Smith said the experience underscored the importance of frequent training, and as a reminder to others that they should keep their skills fresh.

“The more you’re trained,” she said, “the easier it will be to take action because you’ll know automatically what to do.”Lisa Smith - training CPR


Photos courtesy of Lisa Smith


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