Sara White, left, and Isabel Kezman watch as their student practices hands-only CPR in Cebu, Philippines, in February 2017. (Photo by U-Voice student Melanie Ramirez)

By Isabel Kezman, student volunteer

We didn’t have much time to be nervous or unsure before the man – spying our poster and mannequin  – walked up to us and asked if we could teach him how to perform hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  

Charged with being one of Operation Smile’s first student volunteer teams to teach this life-saving skill to families at medical mission sites, this man was our first student and the crowd who joined him our first class. This made his interest and energy even more encouraging for me and my partner, Sara White. 

He asked great questions, too – like, “What if someone was drowning?” – but, thankfully, Operation Smile’s medical oversight coordinator, Monique Russell, was on hand to help field the more complex questions. 

Watching the man practice on the training mannequin and ask such thoughtful questions solidified how important and necessary teaching this skill is and will continue to be; it’s through eager and engaged parents like him that these vital skills will spread throughout the community.  

As Operation Smile student volunteers have conducted more than 120 hands-only CPR trainings in 14 countries during medical missions in just 2018 alone, they’re confident that the skills they’re teaching will have an impact on the immediate community and beyond.

Students learning to be teachers

Before my medical mission to Cebu City, Philippines, in February, I headed to Operation Smile Global Headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for hands-only CPR and Heimlich Maneuver training with Russell and Operation Smile’s manager of education, Maimunat Alex-Adeomi. Another mission-bound student, Madi Hewlett, also took part.  

Operation Smile student volunteer Melanie Ramirez put it best: “Teaching students CPR is so valuable, but giving them the tools they need to teach others is life-saving.”

While students assigned to Operation Smile medical mission sites are taught modules ranging from nutrition to burn care, they are responsible for teaching preventative health care to patients and their families. We were told we were going to be the pioneers of this important new program. 

I was so excited to be a pioneer, especially after learning that hands-only CPR can double, or even triple, a person’s chances of survival after suffering cardiac arrest. Operation Smile U-Voice student Melanie Ramirez put it best: “Teaching students CPR is so valuable, but giving them the tools they need to teach others is life-saving.”  

Students teaching 

Sara, my mission partner, Russell and I traveled to Cebu so, together, we could shape the development of this new program. The plan was to successfully integrate this lesson – or what we like to call, a module – so every medical mission-bound student volunteer can learn how to perform hands-only CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver.

As the week of the medical mission progressed, we saw the power of having students like us teach this module. “The students were continuously making a difference. I witnessed fathers intensely engaged when the students presented. I saw mothers excited to learn. I observed toddlers attempting the technique,” said Russell. “I also spotted local nurse eager to teach others. The students teaching this module is extremely valuable. The students made this material easy to understand and less intimidating for others to learn.” 

And I know that people did take our lessons to heart; later in the week, when his daughter was waiting to go into surgery, I ran into our first-ever student again. He thanked me for teaching him hands-only CPR and Heimlich Maneuver, and he recapped everything he learned. 

This man was one of the 75 people we had taught the week of our medical mission. I’m totally sure by now he has taught many of his friends.

Isabel Kezman studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was a student health care educator during this medical mission to Cebu, Philippines, which took place February 2017.