A Bluffton movie-goer is alive today because a Bluffton High School student knew CPR. Alondra Carrion was attending a movie with a friend shortly after the end of school. In the middle of the movie they went out to the lobby to get popcorn and saw a man fall on the floor.
"A woman was screaming that 'He fell. Somebody help'," Carrion said. "No one was doing anything so I went over to him, thinking I may as well try CPR."
She said she went through the steps of tapping him on the shoulder to see if she could get a response. Nothing. She checked for a pulse and found none.
Carrion began compressions, and before long the paramedics arrived and took over, thanking her, she said. She responded in the way she was trained but that did not mean she had nerves of steel.
"I was nervous at first but then I thought I'm helping this guy out. If it works, it's good. People around me were freaking out," she said.
Carrion learned her skills in Bluffton's Firefighter career course and is one of several high school students participating in the Bluffton Township Fire Department Explorer Post 241 for junior firefighters.
CPR is no longer an elective course just for beginning firefighters or sports medicine students.
Since the 2012 death of a South Carolina high school football player, the push began to include training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of the automated external defibrillators as part of high school health classes.
In April 2016, a state bill passed unanimously in both the South Carolina House and Senate made it a graduation requirement beginning with the 2017-18 freshman class.
Bluffton Head Football Coach John Houpt said in its first year, the school was able to train 291 students, or 87 percent of the freshman class. Those who were unable to take the class will receive instruction this year along with the incoming freshmen.
By the time the Bluffton High School class of 2020 graduates, nearly every student in the school will have the knowledge necessary to help someone who is experiencing cardiac arrest until professional help arrives.
In 2015, 366,807 people in the United States died of cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, 85.2 percent of those were Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrests (OHCA) and occurred in public settings, at a home or in nursing homes.
Houpt said the reception by students has been positive.
"At first, they are a little silly but as we go through the importance of it and the impact in can have on both the victim and the hero," Houpt said, "they start to really enjoy the process and how simple it is to help save someone's life."
Known as "Ronald Rouse's Law," the bill was introduced after offensive lineman Ronald Rouse, 18, collapsed on the field during a Hartsville, Darlington County, Red Fox football game in 2012. While Rouse's condition was diagnosed as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the senior's death brought attention to a shortage of people trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
It's not just freshman who are receiving the training at area high schools. At May River High School, students taking the Sports Medicine program receive CPR and AED training in the first course. At Bluffton High, students taking the Firefighter I and II classes learn early how to do CPR and use AEDs.
In the second week, course instructor Jeron Martinez, a retired U.S. Marine Corps firefighter, began training potential future firefighters in hands-on compressions and breathing.
"This is the foundation of being a firefighter," Martinez told his class. "The majority of calls firefighters go on are medically related."
Carrion and some of her fellow students are taking the career course having been inspired by relatives. Carrion's older brother is a firefighter in the Marines. Junior Cody Eldridge's older brother is now a firefighter with the Bluffton department.
Herson Garcia, a senior, said his inspiration for taking the class was to learn some great skills and information to save people and care for the community.
Learning CPR isn't limited to high school freshmen. People of all ages can take the course from a variety of sources. For those who want to learn and do not need to be certified for a job, the BTFD offers a free "Friends and Family" course that provides the information and skills training for hands-only CPR and use of the AED. Call 843-757-2800.
You don't need to be a first responder to be the first to respond in an emergency.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.