Student’s CPR action helped give Penn State Hershey doctors time to provide care

February 27, 2015 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

Jim Smith and Randy Gibson

Milton Hershey School (MHS) high school student Randy Gibson recently was awarded with the Heartsaver Hero Award from the American Heart Association (AHA) for his efforts in saving the life of houseparent Jim Smith.

Milton Hershey School junior Randy Gibson never imagined he would use his CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training.

That was until last September, when a school houseparent collapsed in front of him.

Milton Hershey School is a private, residential school and home for children from low-income and socially disadvantaged situations. It was founded by chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey.

Last September, when houseparent Jim Smith was out for a run on the school campus, he encountered Gibson along his route and hit the ground a moment later.

For a second Gibson thought it was a joke due to Smith’s reputation as a prankster. He quickly realized something was wrong.

“I knew I needed to help him and only had seconds to think about what to do next,” Gibson said.

He began CPR right away while someone called 911 and ran for a nearby AED – automatic external defibrillator.

According to Smith’s doctor, Dr. Michael Pfeiffer of Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute, Gibson’s quick action and CPR training made all the difference in the outcome in Smith’s case.

“I think without Randy’s involvement, the likelihood of Jim surviving that event would have been dramatically lower, and obviously if no one had intervened, he would have died,” Dr. Pfeiffer said.

Smith’s cardiac event caused his heart to beat irregularly. The chest compressions Gibson administered provided enough force to circulate blood to Jim’s brain and allowed blood flow to continue to keep the heart muscle alive.

“Without regaining a normal heart rhythm, people will die in that scenario,” Dr. Pfeiffer explained. “Chest compressions effectively take over the work of the beating heart.”

He added that CPR is a way for anyone, even without advanced medical training, to help keep enough blood flowing through the body to maintain a person until emergency rescuers arrive for more advanced care.

The end goal is to get the heart pumping in a normal rhythm again. Jim was lucky that an AED was nearby. AEDs analyze the heart rhythm and tell a user whether a shock could be helpful in reestablishing a normal heart rhythm.

“In Jim’s case the shock was appropriate, and he only needed one shock to successfully regain a normal rhythm,” Dr. Pfeiffer said.

Once at the hospital, Smith underwent heart catheterization—a procedure to help doctors visualize veins and arteries into and out of the heart—to determine what caused his cardiac arrest. He had serious blockages that needed to be bypassed.

Because of Gibson’s actions, Smith was clinically stable with a steady heartbeat and good blood pressure, enabling the doctors to use a hypothermia protocol to chill his body, help protect his brain and increase his odds of recovery.

Jim remembers nothing about the incident or the week that followed. He has a family history of heart issues, but the only symptom he had suffered from was acid reflux after running long distances.

While he is still recovering, he is back to work and able to run again.

He has also developed a special bond with his rescuer.

“Not only did he assist in saving my life, literally, he’s such a terrific young man,” Smith said. “For a 16-year old boy to have the presence of mind and the willingness to just jump in like he did, I’m just blown away.”

He said he is thankful to MHS for offering CPR classes to its students, to Gibson for participating in the training and for not being too intimidated to use it.

The student’s actions are unfortunately not the norm.

According to the American Heart Association, people who sustain an out of hospital cardiac arrest only receive CPR from a bystander about 40 percent of the time.

The main reason people do not assist someone during an emergency is fear.

“People often hesitate to help because they don’t know the victim or they fear they will do something wrong, or they have forgotten the steps to CPR,” said Resuscitation Sciences Training Center program manager Tammi Bortner, BSN, RN.

She hopes that the introduction of hands-only CPR will change that.

“It’s probably the most important skill that anyone could learn,” she said. “It takes very little time to learn, and once you learn it, there’s less chance that you’ll forget it because it’s so simple.”

All hands-only CPR requires is pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest to the rhythm of ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees.

“That simple action helps circulate the oxygen that was already in their body,” she said. “It will help keep them alive those first few minutes until trained rescuers arrive on the scene.”

Even someone who is not trained can do hands-only CPR. By calling 911, a person can be talked through the steps by the dispatcher, and newer models of AEDs provide step-by-step instruction once turned on.

Gibson encourages his peers to get the training.

“It’s important to learn and get certified in CPR because you never know when you may need those skills to save a life,” he said. “It feels really good to know that because of all the skills and training I received, I was able to help save Mr. Smith.”

Bortner hopes Smith’s story will inspire others to learn CPR.

“When we have great stories like this, with successful outcomes because all the right things happened, it can really help motivate others to learn this life-saving skill,” she said.

  • Jade Kelly Solovey

Penn State Hershey offers CPR certification for healthcare providers and the community. For more information, including course descriptions, class times, and cost, visit

Want to learn more about hands-free CPR? Don’t miss this American Heart Association video:

Entry filed under: Features. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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