By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
A day in the
life of a crusader can be pretty grim. You know the drill: trying to climb
glass mountains only to slide down, tilting at windmills that snap your lance,
cutting the head off the hydra and watching in disgust as two more sprout to
take its place.
But one day
every once in a great while, instead of the dragon getting you, you get the
dragon, and does the crowd go wild.
public health nurse Verenice Hawkins, last Thursday was that day. Youngsters
cheered from the bleachers of Dade County High School, dignitaries gave
speeches and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal flew in from Atlanta to sign into law
the legislation that represented two decades of Ms. Hawkins’ advocacy.
Rising Fawn resident had agitated to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
taught in Dade schools throughout the tenure of several successive
superintendents. Now, with Georgia Senate Bill 212, she finally got her way.
Not only will Dade students learn the lifesaving skill, so will high school
“I just can’t
shut up,” said Ms. Hawkins later of her long quest.
She did not
herself address the crowd gathered in the high school gymnasium for the May 2
ceremony but left it to her daughter, retired DCHS teacher Linda Wilson, to
speak in her place.
described the matriarch’s place in their family as mother, grandmother and
great-grandmother. “Now,” she concluded, “she can add ‘activist’ to her list of
recounted how her mother began encouraging CPR instruction in the schools as
Dade’s longtime public health nurse, failed to interest school leadership in it
then, but became even more adamant in retirement.
couple of years ago, listening as she does almost every day to local radio, Ms.
Hawkins heard that Jeff Mullis, Dade’s Georgia state senator, would be visiting
the county shortly, and she vowed to rope him into her cause.
It was Sen.
Mullis who – after delays that made the feisty nurse bristle with impatience –
did ultimately usher the CPR bill through the Georgia Senate.
Speaking in his
own turn, Mullis, present at the occasion along with John Deffenbaugh, Dade’s
newly-elected member of the Georgia House of Representatives, said that CPR had
always been of special interest to him since he had been a fire chief “when I
was much younger and much thinner.”
He said that if
the resuscitation instruction saves just one life it would have accomplished a
great feat. “History’s being made,” he said.
And he ceded
the microphone to Gov. Deal, whom he described as “a friend of ours in Dade
get out of class, huh?” the governor quipped to the high school students before
taking his place at a table to sign the bill publicly.
“It is a
somewhat momentous day,” said Gov. Deal. He said that the presence of a person
trained in CPR doubles or triples the chance for survival for someone gripped
by a sudden cardiac arrest.
noted: “Ms. Hawkins was the inspiration for this legislation,” and he also
reminded the audience that Mullis and Deffenbaugh had sponsored the bill in the
Georgia Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.
“I can’t think
of a more perfect location for signing this piece of legislation than right
here,” said Deal.
Also on hand
for the speechifying and photo ops were Ted Rumley, head of Dade’s county
government; Sheriff Ray Cross; Alex Case, the county’s 911 boss; and Dennis
Kelley, the Puckett EMS paramedic who has been coordinating CPR instruction at
the high school this 2012/13 school year.
legislation had been signed, the high school chorus had sung “Georgia on My
Mind,” and the governor had been whisked off Atlantaward, Ms. Hawkins, though
besieged by regional press, found time for a few words with the Dade County
She said she’s
not out of the crusading biz just yet:
Her next campaign will be for legislation requiring newborns to be
tested for heart conditions with pulse oximetry.
Mitchell of the American Heart Association, who had come down for the ceremony
from Nashville, explained that a pulse oximetry machine is the gadget medical
professionals put on a patient’s finger to measure oxygen levels. Now it has
been found that the machine may be used on newborns for early detection of a
heart condition that can be fatal if left undiagnosed, she said: If certain
oxygen levels are found in babies within 24 hours of birth, that’s an
indication the baby should be taken for an electrocardiogram.
“It costs about
$1 to $2, very inexpensive, and it’s saving babies left and right,” said Ms.
passed legislation requiring the test last year, and it went into effect just
Jan. 1, said Ms. Mitchell. “I already know, at one hospital, Vanderbilt in
Nashville, of two babies it’s saved since January,” she said.
Hawkins, flushed with victory from her CPR success, will next ride into battle
for pulse oximetry, she indicated.
Now, wait a
minute, said the Sentinel: Wasn’t first aid instruction Ms. Hawkins’ announced
That, too, said
Ms. Hawkins. “They definitely need first aid,” she said. “They’re all going to
graduate and have families, and Dennis Kelley will teach it here.”
She said she
was already writing to the state school superintendent on the first-aid front.
said her fellow nursing school graduates (from the class of 1953) had never
understood her community activism. That, she said, is because they don’t get
what kind of place Dade is, where everybody knows everybody and where she can
remember vaccinating the grandmothers of current residents when they were
babies brought to the Health Department.
“These are my
people,” she said.