Striking a falsetto register, Steve Traverso belted out the chorus of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" on Wednesday morning in a tiny first-floor Rayburn reception room. "Push to the beat," Traverso instructed the 30 or so Capitol Hill staffers crouched over inflatable dummies on the ornate red carpeting. They pumped their palms into the plastic torsos, listening for the slight "click" that would indicate they were pushing hard enough to save a life.
Traverso, the community CPR manager at the American Heart Association, gave the staffers a 15-minute "hands-only" lesson on what to do when faced with a cardiac emergency. By the end of the brief session, sponsored by AHA and Anthem, Traverso aimed to make the staffers feel confident to perform the life-saving technique without any hesitation. "Even though it's a short lesson, what you get to learn today, you very well may need," Traverso said, after introducing the staffers to the "Mini Anne" mannequins. In addition to CPR, he instructed the small and attentive class on how to use an automated external defibrillators. The portable devices sometimes are found in public places, like airports and airplanes, and can deliver a life-saving shock.
The full certification program for CPR and AED takes three to four hours, but the heart health advocates recognize that not everyone has that kind of time. The training session — offered twice Wednesday — was designed to impart the same critical skills to busy groups like Hill employees. Close to 100 people registered for the classes and about 60 showed up.
Gail Harris-Berry, an AHA volunteer and "heart survivor," explained that time is critical when it comes to cardiac arrest. She learned that lesson firsthand at age 46, when she suffered her first episode.
"Because many times when someone goes into cardiac arrest, if you don't get CPR immediately, the chances are you will die," she explained. Berry also reminded staffers that "cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of humans."
For every minute defibrillation is delayed, the victim’s chance of survival decreases by 10 percent. If it takes an ambulance more than 10 minutes to respond to a 911 call, survival rates drop to zero. About 424,000 Americans fell victim to cardiac arrest last year outside of a hospital, according to AHA, and fewer than 45,000 victims survived. In keeping with the disco theme, organizers passed out gold Mardi Gras-style bead necklaces with "CPR" bling. They were also encouraged to get more training.
"Realistically, we'd love for everyone to get a certification, but we know that people aren't always going to be able to take a half day off work," Traverso said in an interview. The community program is designed to spread skills and awareness, he said, and hopefully make it grow "exponentially."