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New Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School training program seeks to save lives

— Claiming a staggering 350,000 lives per year, sudden cardiac arrest is considered one of the leading causes of death in America. Soon, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School will launch a training program aimed at giving its students, faculty and staff the tools they need to fight back.

The school has recently received a grant of $31,000 from the Public Access Defibrillator Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, which will be used to provide life-saving CPR and automatic emergency defibrillator, or AED, training to the school community.

The grant money will be put towards the purchase of emergency equipment such as CPR mannequins and practice AEDs, which will be used to train the students and staff in their proper operation.

According to the Heart Rhythm Society in Washington, D.C., sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA, is a condition that causes the heart to suddenly stop beating, which results in a loss of blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Usually, SCA is fatal if it is not treated quickly. During a heart attack, on the other hand, the heart continues to beat and the victim remains conscious.

“There are common misconceptions that sudden cardiac arrest and heart attacks are the same thing,” said PVPA school nurse Mary Colwell. “Understanding the difference is critical in saving someone’s life.”

Michael Miccuci, PVPA’s athletics consultant and a trained EMT, will work to develop the program’s training curriculum. He said that the sessions are expected to begin in late April.

“Once a person has been trained in these skills, which are really easy, then they feel empowered to act. In those minutes where an untrained person is going to hesitate or call 911, a trained person is going to immediately initiate CPR and go get an AED,” Miccuci said. That can make a big difference in how well someone recovers from such a major medical event, he said.

“We’ve all heard or read about a student collapsing during an athletic event or someone having sudden cardiac arrest and needing immediate help,” Miccuci said. “Having AEDs in our school and members of our school community who can assist with CPR can mean the difference between life and death,” he said.

As part of the initiative’s planning, Colwell consulted the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation in Wexford, Pa.

“I’m excited by the difference implementing a lifesaving training program like this could make in the lives of students and staff at PVPA,” Colwell said. “Any one of us could be faced with the possibility of someone experiencing SCA,” she said.

In the future, the school plans to partner with the South Hadley Fire Department and expand the program to include other schools and school districts. The school is also planning to train some of the students to become CPR/AED trainers themselves.

According to Caroline Deltoro, the Community Fund’s director of communications, the Public Access Defibrillator Fund is a donor-advised fund which was started by two Northampton lawyers, who started the fund with the intent of making AEDs more publicly available after handling a case in which a person died of a heart attack.

Deltoro said the grant to PVPA will be that particular fund’s last, after which it will be closed out.

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