CRESTVIEW — Melbourne residents Shawn Sima and his daughter, Lexi, have worked successfully to get mandatory CPR training instituted for high school students in Brevard County, Florida, and hope to do the same statewide.
State Sen. Debbie Mayfield and State Rep. Thad Altman submitted Senate Bill 996 and Florida House Bill 795 to the Florida Legislature for 2018, and the Simas, former Crestview residents, are supporting their efforts. HB 795 advanced to education committees on Dec. 8, and both bills have several more steps before becoming laws.
Previous efforts to get the bills passed failed.
"It was called an unfunded mandate, meaning the state did not want to mandate this training without the funds," Shawn Sima said.
"Essentially the cost should not be an issue at all. Most of the CPR kits are donated. We could honestly set up a Go Fund Me and have the money. We are actually working with the American Heart Association to possibly set up an area for donation in the state of Florida," he said.
The bills call for school districts to make instructional programs by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross part of their curriculum. Students would be required to learn to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and an automated external defibrillator at least once before graduation.
The AED is a device that can check a person's heartbeat and shock the heart back into a normal rhythm when it stops functioning, according to the American Heart Association's website, www.heart.org. The device also provides guided instruction on its use.
The Simas became involved in the legislative side of things two years ago when Lexi, then 16, had cardiac arrest — meaning her heart malfunctioned and stopped beating —while running on a treadmill at a gym in Viera.
Because the people at the gym knew CPR and used an AED, they were able to resuscitate Lexi until paramedics arrived.
"As we stood over Lexi as she laid in the emergency room, we didn’t know if she would live or die. The helpless feeling you have as a parent is indescribable," Sima said.
"Lexi never had really any health problems. She had been an athlete since 4 years old. She started playing T-ball and soccer when we lived in Crestview. Sudden cardiac arrest struck our family out of nowhere," her father said. He and his wife, Stacey, also have a son, Carter.
She spent three weeks in the hospital. Doctors implanted a cardiac defibrillator in Lexi's chest that has to be checked by a cardiologist every three months, but they cleared her to return to school and all activities except contact sports. She finished her junior and senior years as a varsity cheerleader at Viera High School.
Along the way, she and her father requested that the Brevard County school board pass legislation for her fellow high school classmates to take CPR training, which they did Nov. 21.
"The fact that the school board did pass the initiative doesn’t even seem real. I made a promise to God that we would pay this forward if he gave her another chance and he did. The Lord has worked this out for our good and the good of others," Shawn Sima said.
The retired U.S. Air Force major is a physician’s assistant at the VA's Orthopedics department in Melbourne. He described the statistics on sudden death and cardiac arrest in the U.S. as staggering.
"Then you realize that now we can train people — our students especially — at the grass roots level, in a one-hour course to save lives.
"My hope is that everybody reading this will realize that at some point, somebody in your life — whether it be a family member, a friend or a complete stranger with the family who loves them — is going to need CPR. It’s almost a guarantee. 350,000 Americans die every year. 100,000 of them can be saved with fast action by bystanders.
"There was 12 minutes before the ambulance ever showed up for my daughter. If we would’ve waited for EMS, she would likely be dead. This is no fault of our emergency responders. They are busy. We all need to take this matter into our own hands."
He requested that everyone reach out to their school boards, legislators, and governor to demand training for young life savers.
"People in Northwest Florida are not trained at the high school level. Currently in Florida, only 11 counties have this policy. That means that 56 other counties in the state don’t get this lifesaving training, including all of Northwest Florida," Shawn Sima said.