How to Save a Life: Girl Scout troop brings CPR training to Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla

Girl Scout Troop 3803 is dedicated to the business of saving lives. The troop of five — Selma Hyytinen, Allison Foerster, Maggie Johnson, Natalie Saham and Amber Watt — developed a plan to bring CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automatic external defibrillator) training to Muirlands Middle School, so fellow students could learn what to do in the case of sudden cardiac arrest.

The Scouts’ project was so successful that San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) wants to expand the training to more schools.

The girls have been together as a troop since kindergarten at Bird Rock Elementary. When they were in fourth grade, Johnson’s father went into sudden cardiac arrest while he was working out. His wife gave him CPR and he survived. Saham recalls it as a pivotal moment.

“After Maggie’s father went into cardiac arrest, it really made us realize that cardiac arrest and heart issues are really prominent in all communities,” she said, “and that it’s not just something you read about in the newspaper. This experience made us realize that we need to be prepared and do everything in our power to save a person’s life.”

As a result, all the girls learned CPR and shared that training with their entire fifth-grade class the following year. But they didn’t stop there. They wanted to offer more training to seventh-graders, and chose the topic as part of their Silver Award. The purpose of the Girl Scout Silver Award is to identify an issue Scouts care about, develop a plan to address it, and take action.

Hyytinen said: “We appreciated being taught CPR so much we wanted to give everyone at Muirlands the same opportunity. There is so much to take away from this experience and I’m really happy and grateful that we’re able to help keep our community safe.”

The troop members reached out to Muirlands’ principal and vice-principal to see if they could conduct training sessions. Their request was met with overwhelming support. San Diego Project Heartbeat, a group dedicated to saving lives through the use of AEDs, jumped in to help the girls pull it off. With assistance from Project Heartbeat (and trainer Maureen O’Connor), the girls were able to train 600 seventh-graders this year and last.

While putting the program together, troop members learned of another organization called Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes Foundation, or SADS, which works to save lives and support the families of young people with hereditary heart-rhythm disorders. Because the program fit nicely with their objective of raising awareness and offering training to students, the troop incorporated SADS’ accreditation program into their Silver Award project.

The accreditation included seven phases from screening and risk assessment to CPR/AED training and emergency medical drills for staff, teachers, and students. The last phase was May 6 — with a Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness booth at the annual “Muirlands Rocks” event.

Muirlands student Liora Krantz went through the training last year and concluded: “Because of the easy-to-learn lesson, I feel prepared if I were ever in a situation where someone is in cardiac arrest. I didn’t realize how easy it is to use the AED.”

Lynn Barnes-Wallace, a SDUSD Project Resource teacher, said she was so impressed with the troop’s program that she invited the girls to do a 40-minute presentation to the SDUSD Wellness Committee last month. She plans to work with the girls to expand the program to motivate other schools to take on the training. “These parents should be very proud of their daughters,” Barnes-Wallace said. “I will make sure we continue their efforts. They have been true champions and when people ask ‘What’s wrong with today’s youth?’ I can say nothing is wrong! These girls are an example of what is right with our youth.”

Troop leader Janey Hummell (Selma’s mom) beams with pride at the troop’s accomplishments. “I’ve enjoyed watching these girls grow from kindergarten through middle school, both as a troop and individually, into the capable leaders they are today,” she said. “They’ve taken something they care about, created a plan and put it into action — which is exactly what Girl Scouting is all about. They’ve had a lot of fun and created a lot of memories along the way. I can’t wait to see what they do next!”