When Joe Thomas suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness at his Frisco home, his daughter Aerin, then 12, didn’t hesitate to perform CPR.
“I was trying to do compressions and breathe into his mouth. He was turning blue,” recalls Aerin’s mom, Angela Thomas. “At some point, I remember Aerin making the comment, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ She gave me the phone to talk to the 911 operator and she started doing the compressions. She continued until the paramedics arrived.”
Aerin’s actions helped save her father’s life that day in 2016—and it’s all thanks to some important lessons she learned as a Frisco ISD sixth grader. The district teaches fundamental first aid to all its students in the first year of middle school.
“I just saw that Mom wasn’t doing what I learned in class, and I told her,” says Aerin, who is now 16. “She wasn’t doing just chest compressions, the hands-only method that the American Heart Association teaches now.”
Clearly, first aid is not just for grownups. With basic training, kids can be a real asset in emergency situations.
Schools are a source of first-aid training for kids
The state of Texas requires school districts to provide CPR training to students before high school graduation. Frisco ISD offers an expanded curriculum that, in addition to compression-only CPR, includes automated external defibrillators (AEDs), wound bandaging, epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens), and other emergency tools and procedures.
Through district purchases and grant funding, Frisco ISD has acquired experiential learning materials, such as CPR manikins that help students understand how much pressure is necessary to keep blood flow going, and AED training devices, which talk the kids through how to use the machine.
The skills taught in sixth grade PE are reinforced through optional PE in seventh and eighth grades and again as part of a mandatory high school health class. (The district is working through how to provide first-aid training while maintaining COVID safety protocols.)
Frisco ISD launched its comprehensive first-aid curriculum after an emergency back in 2011. Kylee Shea, a seventh grader at the time, experienced a sudden cardiac arrest and dropped to the floor in her school hallway.
“Two of my friends were with me, and they saw me fall over and pass out,” shares Shea. “They ran to get our two coaches, Kristen Goodgion and Brent Reese. They ended up preforming CPR and using an AED on me. The school called 911, and after I was awake I was flown to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. If Brent and Kristen weren’t there or properly trained to perform first aid, I would have died.”
But why not just increase training for teachers and other adults on campus? Bottom line—Aerin’s case in point—even young people can find themselves in circumstances where they can play a role in providing first aid. In fact, they may be the only one there to help.
“CPR is one of the best skills to know,” says Kendric Smith, the lead physical education and health teacher at the middle school and high school levels for Frisco ISD. “No one ever thinks they’ll need it or use it, but kids end up doing CPR more often than you might think. These are skills they need now and when they get older.”
For young people whose worlds may revolve around TikTok or video games, a dose of reality is key. “The kids don’t understand the importance of it until you jump into the cases and situations that have happened on campus and in our district,” notes Smith. “We share Kylee and Aerin’s stories and try to give them that real-life perspective: These things do happen. Look what people have done with this kind of training.”
Other community resources for learning first aid
School isn’t the only route to getting your child familiar with first aid. Scouting, for example, incorporates emergency training into its programs—and the skill-building starts early. “[My daughter and her troop-mates] have learned first aid at every level, starting as first grade Daisies, again as second and third grade Brownies, as fourth and fifth grade Juniors and most recently as sixth and seventh grade Cadettes,” explains Kimber Graham, a Plano mom and Girl Scout troop leader. “As a troop, we believe knowing how to take care of yourself and others not only gives you valuable life skills but also helps build girls of courage, confidence and character.”
Denise Castille, who owns Dallas-based Any Day CPR Training, has provided first-aid education for Graham’s troop and other Girl Scout troops in the area.
While Castille wants kids to be at least 9 years old to take her CPR class, she says moms and dads can begin instilling more fundamental first-aid skills in their children at a younger age. “Parents can teach little kids how to call 911 and to remember their address and phone number,” she suggests. “They need to know their parents’ first names. You can teach them where the bandages are kept and to stay away from medicines and cleaning products.”
National organizations also have ideas and resources to help parents begin the process of getting littles prepared for a worst-case scenario. “Conversations about what to do if there’s an emergency are a good way to start,” shares Todd St. Clair with American Red Cross Training Services. “Parents can also go through the free American Red Cross First Aid app with the child —adults and children alike can learn first-aid essentials and test their knowledge through short quizzes—or take an online course together.”
As kids grow, they can branch out into learning the hands-on, step-by-step processes to revive someone who has lost consciousness. Castille, whose own heart attack gave her a personal reason for supporting CPR training, made the lessons a memorable experience for Graham’s 12-year-old daughter Riley. “I have taken this class twice, and both times I had a lot of fun,” Riley says. “Ms. Denise makes something that could be really boring and serious, fun and exciting.”
Graham felt that CPR training was just the right level of challenge for the group of tweens. “Doing all the skills in the right order wasn’t easy, but the girls conquered it by the end of the course by repeating steps out loud as a group and practicing on dummies,” she says.
Castille also teaches older kids—as well as adults—AED operation, wound bandaging, EpiPen use and the Heimlich maneuver; her babysitting safety courses also cover first aid. “And it’s not just the process of doing those things,” she says. “We talk about how you know you need to do those things. What does it look like when someone is having an allergic reaction? We talk about the questions you need to ask someone before giving them the Heimlich maneuver.”
Some of those emergency procedures, including chest compressions and the Heimlich maneuver, clearly require a certain level of physical ability, so that’s one reason they’re not generally taught to younger children.
For in-person American Red Cross first-aid courses (which are currently offered with enhanced safety protocols), there isn’t a minimum age for enrollment, but St. Clair notes children must have the strength to perform the skills. (In addition, consider that course materials are written at a sixth-grade level, and kids must have the patience to sit through a class.)
The American Heart Association uses the same approach for its first-aid training; while there isn’t an official minimum age for participants, they must be physically and emotionally mature enough to go through the course.
But as soon as they are, it’s a good idea to enroll them (and refresh them as time goes by). “When training kids, it is important that they feel it’s easy to learn how to save a life and, most importantly, they should feel empowered to do so,” says Dr. Gustavo Flores, an American Heart Association volunteer as well as the director and chief instructor for Emergency & Critical Care Trainings. “I want any kid—or adult for that matter—to say, ‘This is easy, and I can do it.’”
First-Aid Value for All Kids
Even if children never have occasion to put first aid to use in a real-life emergency, there is value. Beyond integrating “helping behaviors” into their personalities, first-aid training could help kids develop an interest in medical care that may shape their career aspirations.
And should an emergency occur on your child’s watch? They can call upon their skills in those critical moments.
“It never occurred to us that we would need that first-aid education,” shares Thomas, whose daughter Aerin performed CPR on her father. (He is doing fine now.) “This whole experience has reinforced the fact that our children can make a difference.”
Aerin adds, “I know I have the ability to step in and help someone in need. I would just say to other young people to not be afraid to try.”
Log On for Safety
There are a number of online resources offering kid-friendly first-aid content.
Nemours Kids Health has first-aid info written with a young reader in mind. Children can find out how to treat a nosebleed, ways to recognize and combat dehydration, best practices for 911 calls and more. There are also articles for parents.
There are plenty of kid-focused health and safety videos on the American Heart Association’s YouTube channel, and the American Heart SouthWest channel has a video of Frisco resident Kylee Shea recounting her experience with sudden cardiac arrest; it includes security footage of her collapse. (Search “Kylee’s Story – Support Healthy Kids.”) The American Heart Association also has a Spotify playlist called “Don’t Drop the Beat,” featuring dozens of popular songs that have the right number of beats per minute for CPR compressions.
The City of Frisco’s YouTube channel features Aerin Thomas’ recognition and story. (Search “CPR hero Aerin Thomas.”)
The American Red Cross has a variety of downloadable resources that teach kids emergency preparedness. From storybooks for littles (Prepare With Pedro) to the Monster Guard app geared at tweens, plus hands-on activities to enhance home safety, there’s something for everyone.
Image courtesy of iStock.