Near death experience sparks major change in legislation

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, congratulates Shawn Sima and his daughter, Lexi, for their efforts in getting a bill signed into law that will require Florida high school students to take CPR training before they can graduate from high school.

 

Shawn Sima is on a mission.

The retired U.S. Air Force major wants every Florida high school student to take cardiopulmonary resuscitation training. He’s getting his wish.

A new law now will require ninth-grade and 11th-grade students in Florida’s public school system to learn how to perform CPR.

According to several Brevard Public Schools officials, the CPR training will be part of the H.O.P.E (Health Opportunities through Physical Education) curriculum.

“It’s a one-hour nationally recognized CPR course in the public health sector of the school,” said Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, who sponsored the bill and represents District 42 that is part of Osceola and Polk counties. “So many people are afraid to act, thinking they’ll do something wrong. And, Florida has laws to protect them, that’s the one thing that was asked during this whole process."

Sima got his wish when the new bill was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that will require Florida high school students to take the CPR training before they can graduate from high school.

The law, which went into effect July 1, requires school districts — including Brevard Public Schools — to provide CPR and basic first aid training for students in ninth and 11th grades.

Sima’s mission began shortly after his then 16-year-old daughter, Lexi, went into sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed while running on a treadmill at the former Sunbay Fitness gym in Viera in February 2016. Lexi was rehabilitating a knee injury at the time of the incident.

“If it wasn’t for CPR my daughter would not be alive today,” said Sima, who works at the orthopedic department at the Veterans Affairs Viera Outpatient Clinic.

Sima’s daughter was saved when three men and a woman — Bill Sick, Jack Rhodes, John Lynch and Amanda Miller — quickly jumped into action by administering CPR and using the gym’s AED (Automated External Defibrillator) to shock her heart back to rhythm.

Lexi Sima, a 2018 graduate of Viera High School, was then airlifted to a local hospital where doctors later implanted an internal defibrillator. The underlying cause of Sima’s cardiac arrest is unknown.

“A gentleman in the gym had just taken CPR and knew what to do when my daughter basically collapsed and died,” said Sima, who now lives on Merritt Island and has been advocating for HB 157 to pass Florida’s Legislature.

According to the organization Parent Heart Watch, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the No. 1 killer of student-athletes.

“When you hear people say, you know, we have the chance to save lives of people that we’ll never meet, this could be the most life-saving bill ever passed by the Florida Legislature,” Hawkins said.

For Sima, it’s about saving lives through education.

“The statistics show that at least 20 kids a day in the United States die suddenly and unexpectedly from sudden cardiac arrest, which is different than a heart attack — it’s an electrical problem, you know, not a clogged artery problem in our youth,” Sima said. “It takes on average 12 to 15 minutes for the ambulance to show up to your house. The key is you have 3 to 5 minutes to do something like CPR to prevent irreversible brain damage or death for your loved one.”

Sima said 70 percent of people die from cardiac arrest in the home.

The course includes a 60-minute video about CPR and a kit with 10 blow-up dummies for students to practice and get hands-on experience.

“The high school teacher doesn’t need to be certified to teach the program,” Sima said.

Lexi Sima, now a pediatric cardiac nursing assistant at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, doesn’t remember the incident but is grateful for the help she received. In response, she is now an advocate for CPR training, heart screening of student-athletes and the widespread use of AEDs.

“If it wasn’t for CPR my daughter would not be alive today.”

— Shawn Sima

“I think it’s super important for every kid to learn CPR,” she said. “I know some kids may not take it seriously, but it’s really easy to learn and you could save someone’s life if faced with that situation.”