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Retired public health nurse Verenice Hawkins is pictured here with Puckett EMS paramedics Dennis Kelly (left) and Brian Lee (kneeling) teaching CPR at Dade County High School last fall. The class represented the culmination of Ms. Hawkins’ 20-year quest to get CPR taught in health classes. Now a bill sponsored by Georgia State Sen. Jeff Mullis would make CPR a requirement in schools statewide. It passed the state Senate March 5 and now must get through the Georgia House of Representatives to become law.
 

By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

In Atlanta, Georgia Senate Bill 212, which requires high schools to provide instruction in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), passed on March 5 with an overwhelming 44-to-6 vote. In order to become law, the measure must next pass the Georgia House of Representatives, and it is so far uncertain when the House will take it up.

In Rising Fawn, meanwhile, the squeaky wheel that got the CPR issue greased said she was pleased SB 212 had passed the Senate but only guardedly optimistic about its future. “Well, I’m hopeful, but I was hopeful the first time I talked to him,” said retired public health nurse Verenice Hawkins by phone last week.

By “him,” Ms. Hawkins referred to Jeff Mullis, Dade’s state senator and the CPR bill’s sponsor. Ms. Hawkins was glad Mullis had acted on her pet project but the word “finally” hung heavy in the air: She’d approached Mullis about the matter over two years ago and hadn’t heard much from him since, said Ms. Hawkins. 

“I kept sending him letters,” she said.

In any case, Ms. Hawkins went on, she was not so happy about the senator’s advocacy on another bill, one vouchsafing churchgoers’ right to bear arms in their houses of worship. “I want to save somebody’s life,” she said. “I don’t want to kill anybody.” 

If Ms. Hawkins sounds a bit on the testy side, readers are urged to remember two points: (a) At 80, a woman has earned the right to speak her mind; and (b) for Ms. Hawkins, the CPR bill comes only after two long, frustrating decades of trying to get this simple but lifesaving emergency technique taught in the schools.

As detailed in the Sentinel’s Oct. 3 article, Ms. Hawkin’s original quest was not so ambitious as getting CPR onto school curricula statewide. As the county’s longtime public health nurse, and a former substitute teacher in the local schools, Ms. Hawkins focused initially on getting CPR into high school health classes here in Dade. 

Through the years she has plugged the idea to successive school superintendents – one told her if a former student failed to save a life with CPR, the school system could be sued – and with her own money bought a CPR dummy and instruction kit and donated it to the high school health teacher. “I found out later he was only showing them the video,” she said.

But Ms. Hawkins never gave up and in 2010, fired up by a news story about a child who had drowned, she approached Sen. Mullis during one of his visits to Dade. He was initially enthusiastic, she said, and told her he would take the idea statewide, but later the idea seemed to die. When she asked why, she said, the senator told her it would cost too much. She pointed out the kit had cost her $45, and anyway:  “What was a life worth?”

Ms. Hawkins also wrote about the matter to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who she said emailed her back to take it up with her local representatives. “He said if they passed it, he would give it careful consideration,” she said. “That made me mad. I thought, big deal, Mr. Deal.” She had, after all, already tried that.

Then, just last fall, she had her first success. After a Davis student quit breathing and was revived by a school nurse who did CPR, Ms. Hawkins found Dade’s current superintendent, Shawn Tobin, suddenly receptive to the idea of teaching it in the schools. 

Dennis Kelley, a paramedic with Puckett EMS, the ambulance provider that serves Dade, coordinated between the schools and his employer, and he and a team of his fellow emergency medical technicians began teaching CPR in the high school gymnasium on Oct. 1.

Ms. Hawkins said Kelley reported back to her that the program has been a success. “He said Mr. Tobin’s already talked to him about teaching CPR next year,” she said. 

She’s even heard that Kelley is under consideration for an EMT of the Year award, said Ms. Hawkins. “I think that might have something to do with teaching CPR, don’t you?” she said.

In any case, Ms. Hawkins sent news of the Dade EMT class to both Mullis and the governor. Whether or not that influenced the passage of SB 212 she can only guess, but she said she did hear Sen. Mullis while discussing the bill on local radio refer in connection to it to “that Ms. Hawkins in Rising Fawn.”

Specifically, SB 212 requires boards of education operating a school with grades nine through 12 to provide hands-on instruction in CPR and automated defibrillator (AED) use as part of their health or physical education courses. 

Hands-on practice is a required component of instruction, and local emergency service, fire department or hospital may help with that. The program must be one developed by the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross or another nationally recognized instructional program. The bill does not require students to become certified in CPR.

Again, the Georgia House has announced no timetable for its consideration of the CPR bill, but Ms. Hawkins says she’s already written to her state representative, newly-elected Dade resident John Deffenbaugh, requesting his support for it.

Whether or not the CPR bill makes it through the House, Ms. Hawkins says she’s not through squeaky-wheeling for health instruction in the schools. “They need a good first aid class,” she said. “They’re going to have families, most of them.”

And she does admit feeling a tad vindicated that her CPR quest has finally made it to Atlanta. “Maybe I’m just one person but I can be heard,” she said.


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