Girl’s death inspires lifesaving legislation
BY KATIE THISDELL
A Stafford couple hopes to convince state legislators that CPR training for teachers could save lives.
Joel and Jennifer Griffin lost their eldest daughter, Gwyneth, last summer after her heart stopped one day at school. She didn’t get CPR or emergency first-aid until rescue-squad crews arrived, nearly 10 minutes after she collapsed.
Gwyneth’s Law could require CPR training for teachers, bus drivers and high school graduates, ensuring faster and better responses to situations like this.
“I do think it’s critical for our schools and for our community,” Joel Griffin said. “I believe the reason it has gotten moved forward so quickly is that it is an oversight that we should have corrected years ago.”
Local legislators Del. Mark Dudenhefer, R–Stafford, and Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford, introduced the bill in this year’s General Assembly session. The Griffins lobbied a House subcommittee this past week.
Monday, the bill will be heard in the Senate’s public education subcommittee. Griffin encourages supporters to attend, wearing pink, Gwyneth’s favorite color.
Gwyneth had been born with a heart murmur but was otherwise healthy and active. She was running with her classmates around the track at A.G. Wright Middle School on June 8, just before the start of summer vacation, when she collapsed, not breathing. After spending nearly two months at VCU Medical Center, Gwyneth died at the end of July, just a month after her 13th birthday.
Schoolteachers and staff are often the first responders in all sorts of emergencies.
Dudenhefer said with all the talk about school safety, it’s more likely that medical emergencies like Gwyneth’s endanger more students than the acts of violence that often garner headlines.
“This will help kids right away,” said Dudenhefer, who used to be a county supervisor in the Griffins’ Garrisonville District in North Stafford. “It uncovered some gaps in the way we provide a safety net for our kids at school.”
The sooner someone undergoing cardiac arrest receives CPR, the greater the person’s chance of survival.
Current Virginia code calls for two people to be certified in first-aid and CPR every two years in each public school building.
The new bill, which has support from the American Heart Association, would tie CPR and automated external defibrillator, or AED, training into certification requirements and renewal of teacher licenses. It would also allow school boards to require the training of bus drivers and more school employees.
The bill would also make CPR, first-aid and AED training a requirement for earning a high school diploma, starting with the class of 2018.
AEDs are portable electronic devices that re-establish heart rhythms and are easy to use. The bill would require an AED in every school by the 2014–15 year.
But the units are expensive, with each one costing a few-thousand dollars. Funding may be the biggest hurdle for Gwyneth’s Law.
There may be pushback from groups about an additional mandate, but Dudenhefer said he’s gotten positive feedback.
Griffin said he hopes the state can help schools secure low-cost certification training, as well as to find grants and other funding for the AEDs.
“It’s a small amount of money, relatively speaking,” Griffin said.
The Stafford Board of Supervisors will consider endorsing the bill at its Tuesday meeting.
In the county, a committee made up of Supervisor Ty Schieber and three School Board members has been discussing a local effort to train Stafford teachers in lifesaving procedures.
Since Gwyneth ’s collapse, most of the staff at A.G. Wright Middle school and neighboring Garrisonville Elementary have learned CPR, along with many of Gwyneth ’s friends. Students in her graduating class of 2017 made a pact to be CPR-certified before they receive their diplomas.
Staff reporter Chelyen Davis contributed to this story.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975