West Salem teen saves father’s life with CPR

When Willy Giddings started a CPR program in Salem schools seven years ago, he didn’t expect it would one day save his friend’s life.

Giddings, a paramedic and captain with the Salem Fire Department, helped launch a program in 2015 that now teaches CPR to every eighth grader in the Salem-Keizer School District — about 14,000 students to date.

That training came in handy earlier this month when a West Salem High School senior’s father went into cardiac arrest at home.

The boy had learned CPR in his health class at Straub Middle School, and immediately began compressions, according to an account Giddings wrote for the department. The boy’s mother, who was also trained, helped, while his younger brother elevated his dad’s legs.

“Every minute that you’re in cardiac arrest and nobody’s doing CPR, your chance of survival goes down by 10%,” Giddings said.

The department teaches students hands-only CPR, where rescuers perform chest compressions to keep oxygenated blood circulating in the body of someone in cardiac arrest. That’s crucial to keeping the brain alive, buying time for more advanced medical care that can get the heart beating again.

On Dec. 3, medics responded to the family’s west Salem home in five minutes and 39 seconds, Giddings said — a typical response time for Salem. Giddings said without the family doing CPR, the man’s chances of survival would have been low.

If nobody does CPR during that time, “we virtually almost have no chance of getting somebody back,” he said.

Instead, responding medics used a defibrillator and cardiac medications to restore a pulse in the 49-year-old man before transporting him to the hospital.

As one of the department’s captains in west Salem, Giddings heard from his crew that they’d performed CPR. When he saw the address they’d responded to, he realized the man was his friend. Giddings reached out to his wife and got the full story.

“It was pretty emotional,” Giddings said. “It was pretty cool. I put a lot of time and effort trying to get schedules organized and people together … If we save one life it’s worth doing all this work.”

Giddings said his friend is still recovering from bypass surgery in the hospital and doesn’t yet want to speak publicly about the incident so as not to jinx his recovery.

The CPR in the Schools program was on hold during the pandemic and has just restarted this fall. In addition to training students in health class, Giddings said firefighters also encourage students to take mannequins home to teach their parents how to do CPR.

Among cardiac arrests that happen outside a hospital, about 70% are at home, rather than in a public place like work or school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means having families trained to help is critical to saving lives.

“I want kids to be willing to help if they need to,” he said.

The Salem Fire Department isn’t currently offering community CPR classes because of a lack of staffing, but will be teaching all eighth graders at local schools this year, Giddings said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.