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American Red Cross courses teach teens and adults techniques for managing emergencies until help arrives

By Nina Polien Light

American Red Cross CPR certification was required for Gilbert DiSanto when he worked with children in environmental education and outdoor adventure programs.  Fortunately, the youngsters he mentored never required cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

But in the summer of 2017, the Novelty resident was grateful for the training.  As he crossed a pedestrian bridge near the headquarters of his family’s company, Miceli Dairy Products, he spotted an unconscious man lying on the sidewalk. DiSanto instructed a security guard to call 911 and, as directed by the dispatcher, grabbed a nearby AED, or automated external defibrillator. After hooking the machine to the man’s body and pressing a button, the AED confirmed the man was unresponsive.  DiSanto stood back as the device administered an electric shock to restore the man’s heart rhythm.  Then, DiSanto began administering chest compressions.

“I thought he was dead,” DiSanto recalls.  “His skin was gray and his eyes were open.  As soon as the shock happened, he moved, and as soon as I did chest compressions, the color went back into his eyes and skin.  I kept doing chest compressions until I felt a faint heartbeat and EMS arrived to take him to the hospital.”

The following day, DiSanto learned the man survived.  DiSanto’s wife was inspired by her husband’s lifesaving actions to learn CPR herself. Earlier this year, the American Red Cross honored DiSanto at the Greater Cleveland Heroes Award ceremony in downtown Cleveland.

CPR certification is a lot like car insurance. No one likes paying the premiums, but drivers are thankful they have insurance if they find themselves in a fender bender.  Likewise, DiSanto hoped he would never have to use an AED, but he—and the unconscious man he encountered on the sidewalk—are certainly glad he had the training.

“About 360,000 people die every year of sudden cardiac arrest,” confirms Jim McIntyre, communications and marketing manager of American Red Cross, Greater Cleveland Chapter, which serves Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties. “The chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest increase by 50% if CPR and an AED are applied within the first four to five minutes.  Those chances increase by 90% if the AED is applied after one to two minutes, so it’s essential for everyone to learn CPR, use of an AED and basic first aid.”

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating or beats too ineffectively to circulate blood to the brain and other vital organs, he explains.  An AED quickly diagnoses an irregular heartbeat, determines whether a person is unresponsive and, when necessary, delivers an electric shock to jumpstart the heart.

There is no minimum age for learning CPR, but performing it requires the ability to compress the chest at least two inches at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute, which may be difficult for children until they reach their teenage years.  The motion approximates the beat of the Bee Gees song, “Stayin’ Alive.”  Once youngsters are capable of sustaining the motion, it is appropriate for them to learn the different forms of CPR.  Hands-only CPR consists solely of chest compressions, while full CPR combines chest compressions and rescue breaths.  Infant and child CPR requires a technique that involves less forceful compressions.

In addition to CPR and AED training, the American Red Cross also offers First Aid, Basic Life Support and First Aid for Severe Bleeding courses. Depending on the class, participants learn lifesaving techniques for managing asthma attacks, anaphylaxis, bleeding, seizures and other medical emergencies until EMS arrives.  Students learn how to perform abdominal thrusts for conscious choking cases as well as obstructed airway maneuvers for infants, children and adults.  A newly instituted program provides instruction on stopping the flow of blood, including how and when to apply a tourniquet or hemostatic dressing.

For information on lifesaving American Red Cross courses, visit