Rady Children’s recognizes Missions Hills for heart safety efforts

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SAN MARCOS – Mission Hills High School Library Assistant Melanie Curnow knows better than most how important an automated external defibrillator and CPR training can be in saving lives.

In March 2020, Curnow was beginning her workday when she suffered sudden cardiac arrest, a potentially fatal event. Luckily, her life was saved thanks to the quick action of four on-site workers who used a nearby automated external defibrillator (AED) and CPR.

“The AED was right against the wall where I was sitting when I walked in,” Curnow recalled. “I firmly believe that as more people are educated, there will be more miracle stories like mine.”

As of this year, Mission Hills has deployed six AEDs throughout the school, including two wearables, to respond to cardiac emergencies. Hundreds of students also learn how to use AEDs, practice CPR, and apply other life-saving skills through the school’s healthcare career path.

Because of these and other efforts, Mission Hills was named a heart-safe school Wednesday by Project Adam, an organization that helps schools develop policies and procedures for responding to cardiac events through Rady Children’s Hospital.

“We are very confident that this will be the first of many schools to receive this designation in the San Marcos Unified School District,” said Anne Laymon, a registered nurse at Mission Hills and Rady Children’s Hospital who serves as Project Adam’s program coordinator.

(Left to right) Rady Children’s Hospital pediatric cardiologist Rohit Rao, Chief Medical Officer Gail Knight, San Marcos Unified School District Superintendent Andy Johnsen, and Mission Hills High School Principal Cliff Mitchell celebrate Wednesday’s award of the school as heart safe. Photo by Laura Place

Project Adam was created in honor of Adam Lemel, a Wisconsin high school student who died of a heart attack on a campus without a defibrillator in 1999. The organization aims to prevent similar tragedies on other school campuses.

Mission Hills is the fourth school in San Diego County to receive the Heart Safe School designation overall and the first in North County.

While some school districts equip students with CPR skills, the San Marcos Unified School District has gone a step further by offering students a health pathway with in-depth courses designed to prepare students for a variety of health care careers.

At Mission Hills, students learn basic life-saving skills such as CPR, how to use AEDs, and have the opportunity to do internships in various areas of the local healthcare industry.

Mission Hills High School librarian Melanie Curnow speaks Wednesday about her experience of being in cardiac arrest and being CPR by staff in 2020. Photo by Laura Place
Mission Hills High School librarian Melanie Curnow speaks Wednesday about her experience of being in cardiac arrest and being CPR by staff in 2020. Photo by Laura Place

“You learn so many life-saving skills that you can apply to any situation – allergic reaction, cardiac arrest or bleeding. Any emergency, and you’re schooled in your skills when you leave the classroom,” said junior Kate Happy.

“We are passionate about knowing that we have the skills that could potentially save someone’s life,” added senior Ashley Galindo.

Mission Hills Principal Cliff Mitchell said the students’ willingness to learn lifesaving skills is inspiring.

“I think all of us are vulnerable to having a loved one or a colleague or being at the airport or some other public place and having someone in cardiac arrest,” he said. “These students are miles ahead of us as children, and they are so willing and willing to help.”

Mitchell added that he intends for all students at the school to be trained in CPR through physical education classes for years to come.

While it’s helpful to become familiar with an AED before using it, they also provide step-by-step spoken instructions, including how to administer shocks.

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