SAN MARCOS — Mission Hills High School library aid Melanie Curnow knows better than most just how important an automatic external defibrillator and CPR training can be in saving a life.
In March 2020, Curnow was starting her work day when she suffered sudden cardiac arrest, a potentially fatal occurrence. Thankfully, her life was saved thanks to quick action by four onsite staff members, who used a nearby automatic external defibrillator, or AED, and CPR.
“The AED was right on the wall where I was sitting when I came in,” Curnow recalled. “I firmly believe that if more people are trained, there will be more miracle stories like mine.”
As of this year, Mission Hills has implemented six AEDs throughout the school including two that are portable, in order to respond to cardiac emergencies. Hundreds of students are also learning how to use AEDs, practice CPR and administer other life-saving skills through the school’s health care career pathway.
Due to these and other efforts, Mission Hills was designated Wednesday as a Heart Safe School by Project Adam, an organization which supports schools in developing policies and procedures to respond to cardiac events, through Rady Children’s Hospital.
“We’re very hopeful this will be the first of many schools to receive this designation in the San Marcos Unified School District,” said Anne Laymon, registered nurse at Mission Hills and Rady Children’s Hospital who serves as a Project Adam program coordinator.
Project Adam was created in honor of Adam Lemel, a high school student in Wisconsin who died of a cardiac emergency in 1999 on a campus with no defibrillator. The organization aims to prevent similar tragedies on other school campuses.
Mission Hills is the fourth school in San Diego County to receive Heart Safe School designation overall, and the first in North County.
While some school districts equip students with CPR skills, the San Marcos Unified School District has taken things a step further by offering students a health care pathway with in-depth courses designed to prepare students for various health care careers.
At Mission Hills, students learn basic lifesaving skills like CPR, as well as how to use an AEDs, and can participate in internships in different areas of the local health care industry.
“You learn so many life-saving skills that you can apply to any situation — allergic reactions, cardiac arrest, or bleeding. Any emergency, and you’re trained in your skills by the time you leave the classroom.,” said junior Kate Froelich.
“It gives us passion knowing we have the skills that could potentially save someone’s life,” added senior Ashley Galindo.
Mission Hills Principal Cliff Mitchell said students’ willingness to learn essential lifesaving skills is inspiring.
“I think we’re all susceptible to having a loved one or a coworker, or being at the airport or another public place, and having someone in cardiac arrest,” he said. “These students are miles ahead of where we were as kids, and they’re so willing and so ready to lend a hand.”
Mitchell added that he aims to have all students in the school trained in CPR through physical education classes in the coming years.
While it helps to be familiar with an AED before use, they also offer step by step spoken directions, including when to administer shocks.