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Vol. LXI, No. 14
July 10, 2009

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‘Be Willing to Help Someone’
Veteran CPR Trainer Egebrecht Is in Her Element

Juli Egebrecht
As NIH’s director of basic life support training for 24 years (and counting), Juli Egebrecht is an enduring presence in a place that appreciates her specialty. Yet popular culture, pervasive as it is, tends to mangle what she does—or at least the perception of it.

Egebrecht is ready for that.

“No more Baywatch CPR,” she says. “You can do the motions, but that’s only on TV. You have to do the real thing, for real.”

CPR torsos, equipment and desks ring her classroom walls (CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a rescue procedure). In the center is an open area where folks practice the lifesaving ratio of 30 chest compressions to 2 breaths.

“I’m an anthropologist by training,” says Egebrecht, “and I tell my classes you have to develop a real-world scenario. While you’re waiting for the AED [automated external defibrillator] to come, CPR is hard and it’s tiring, so you have to get people to take over and convince them to work with you.”

Since 1985, Egebrecht has been an NIH contractor; she’s currently here with the American Heart Association via the Cambridge Group. “I’ve had 4 different paymasters,” she says, “but it’s the same position.”

What’s changed is the program. “It’s gone from being first aid and CPR to courses for the layperson as well as the health care provider. And now,” she says, “the latest is the AED training,” a trend that started in the late 1980s.

An AED is a computerized medical device that can detect a life-threatening heart rhythm and then deliver a corrective shock (defibrillation). The AED uses voice prompts, lights and text messages to tell the rescuer how to proceed, step by step.

Egebrecht has spent 24 years teaching CPR at NIH and is always glad to have more students.

Egebrecht has spent 24 years teaching CPR at NIH and is always glad to have more students.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs, on average, every 2 minutes throughout the U.S. In the absence of emergency rescue, survival falls 10 percent per minute over the first 10 minutes, so the initial shock is best performed by bystanders.

Untrained as well as trained people can use the AED. If trained, however, the rescuer will be able to use the AED more quickly and efficiently, with fewer interruptions in compressions.

“It’s wonderful, it’s easy, it’s fun for people to learn and they’re interested in learning it,” says Egebrecht. “The latest AEDs have lithium batteries, very compact. Some are small enough to fit on police utility belts.”

Originally from Wisconsin, Egebrecht grew up in a medical family. She studied pre-med, switched to anthropology then married and moved to Alabama with her husband, a Boeing physicist. After 5 years of the moon shot life at Marshall Space Center, they relocated to Silver Spring, Md.

As a young mother with two children, Egebrecht volunteered as a swim instructor and coach. Once she took the in-house CPR training, she was hooked.

“I’ve been a CPR instructor since 1972,” she says, “since the dark ages, with the blow-up Annies [full-sized mannequins]. We literally pumped them up; you pressed on the chest and their legs flew up in the air.”

The American Heart Association guidelines change every 5 years; Egebrecht revises her own curriculum accordingly. Her basic life support and CPR classes draw people from every IC, including the Clinical Center. (Advanced life support is taught to code team and critical care personnel by the CC’s nurse educators.)

“I love it here,” she says. “People here think outside the box; they are more amenable to change. [IC and program] directors come in every 2 years [for renewal] and do their bit, and when they’re here they’re totally focused on the class. They’re wonderful and they set a great example. But I also think they’re just interested in it.”

Those who teach don’t necessarily know the impact they make on students. Sometimes the payoff comes way down the line. Egebrecht says she occasionally gets feedback about incidents when “someone does save someone outside of the hospital…One of the physicians here, a pediatrician, had a class with me,” she recalls. “He and his family went camping in West Virginia [at a spot where there was a pool]. He heard an ungodly scream [and] saw a young girl being taken out of the pool. So he started CPR. Before the helicopter got there, she was breathing.”

The girl survived.

“[The physician] sent me an email,” Egebrecht continues. “He said, ‘I heard your voice while I was working on her.’ And I’m sitting there crying while I read it.”

In a separate incident last December at Rockledge Fitness Center, graduates of Egebrecht’s training helped resuscitate an NIH’er. He, too, survived.

“My father died of a heart attack back in 1976,” Egebrecht says. “And I believe in this program…You have to be willing to volunteer to help someone.”

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