Joan Eacmen was in the middle of a routine day teaching math at Boston’s O’Bryant School of Math & Science, when suddenly she went into cardiac arrest and crumpled to the ground.

The ninth-graders were stunned silent. But not for very long.

Within seconds they alerted assistant principal Bettie Nolan and school nurse Carrie Bell Peace. Peace began giving CPR and then used the school’s automated external defibrillator as the school secretary called 9-1-1. Eacman was hospitalized, but currently she is recovering at home.

This week, the American Heart Association honored the students, Nolan and Peace for their lifesaving work. Elliott Antman, M.D. and president-elect of the AHA, and director of the cardiac unit at Brigham & Women’s Hospital for 29 years, was among those taking part in the presentation of the Heartsaver Hero Award.

“This is what the AHA is all about,” Antman said. “It was one of the most moving events in my 34 years as a cardiologist.”

The lifesaving event occurred thanks to CPR, but the school – and the state of Massachusetts – do not require CPR in schools. But even more lives could be saved if more schools required it, he said. The AHA is urging states to pass laws requiring CPR as a graduation requirement, but Massachusetts doesn’t set curriculum at a state level and so efforts are underway locally.

“Stories like Boston are always effective in helping showcase why we want to teach students CPR,” Antman said.

School spokesman Adair Johnson hopes to include CPR training in the curriculum next fall.

It’s important because effective bystander CPR provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. However only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.

That’s in part because 70 percent of Americans say they feel powerless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed.

That means training takes on a greater significance, even if on a grander platform. Rather than specify the training on students, Johnson wishes to put the focus on training everyone. Including not only his students, but all of the schools’ staffers.

“That’s the overall goal,” Johnson said. “To save as many lives as possible.”

Antman hopes stories such as the one at O’Bryant highlight this necessity.

“Our hope is by using the O’Bryant School in Roxbury as an example we can get other school districts to adopt this notion,” he said.

For more information: