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Jeff Zucker, a junior for Penn men's tennis, is working with the Penn Athletics administration to have all Red and Blue student-athletes certified in CPR.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Every year, we hear cases of athletes collapsing during practice or in-game. What's worse is that often, none of these athlete's teammates know how to perform CPR. 

Jeff Zucker, a junior for Penn men's tennis, became worried about the safety of Penn student athletes after hearing one such story last year. Though a passerby was able to save the athlete in that case, he wondered what would happen if this occurred at a tennis practice. 

"If I collapsed during practice, what would my teammates do? I think they would probably panic and not know what to do," Zucker said. "I really feel like there's a need to be able to take control of a situation like that, act fast, and know what to do." 

Zucker's solution comes from his high school experience: students at the Pingry School in New Jersey had to complete CPR training in order to graduate. Seeing as many of his teammates didn't know CPR, Zucker suggested instituting mandatory CPR training for Penn athletes in a conversation with Associate Director for Sports Performance Dr. Andrea Wieland. 

"The NCAA is looking for solutions to prevent cardiac arrests, like EKG readings or cardiovascular evaluations, but these cost schools a lot of time and money," Zucker said. "While talking to Andrea Weiland, I stressed that as athletes we need to be trained on how to deal with these types of incidents." 

Weiland completely agreed with Zucker. Nonetheless, she emphasized that having every Penn athlete CPR-certified would be costly. A CPR certification from the American Heart Association costs $35 and lasts three hours — a lot of time and money for a 1000-person athletic program. 

Zucker sees CPR certification as being a benefit for the entire Penn community — not just Penn athletes. (Photo from Jeff Zucker)

"The process to getting CPR certified is that you go to a three-hour class and learn how to use an AED, perform compressions, and initially carry out rescue breaths," Zucker said. "At the end, you get a card, which is the main way the AHA makes money. But it also makes it difficult to get a large number of people CPR-certified." 

In a search for other options, Zucker and Wieland looked to the at-large Penn community. Fortunately, they were able to find an alternative CPR training program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. 

"We discovered a Penn mobile CPR unit at HUP that specializes in large CPR training," Zucker said. "They do the same exact thing as the AHA except that you don't get the card, and it's a lot more financially feasible for Penn Athletics."

Working with Dr. Benjamin Abella of Penn Medicine, Zucker was able to cut the duration of the training by two hours. 

"[Dr. Benjamin Abella] works in the ER at Penn Medicine, and he is one of the most renowned people in the country when it comes to sudden cardiac arrests," Zucker said. "After telling him that we needed to cut the time down, we condensed the class from three hours to just 55 minutes with five minutes of questions at the end of it."

Zucker structured the training so that all junior Penn athletes will be certified in the fall, and all freshman Penn athletes will be certified in the spring. 

"Juniors are going to be in the fall and freshmen are going to be in the spring," Zucker said. "This way you're going to have athletes certified every two years just like you would if you were in the AHA."

Though requiring every Penn athlete to be CPR certified is a positive step in Zucker's view, he also thinks that Penn Athletics would do well to focus on mental health issues. 

"There are so many mental health issues that can really impair an athlete's ability to play at their peak level, and I think that more initiatives centered on mental health and wellness is important," Zucker said. "I would love to see other student athletes take initiatives to make sure that we're not just taking care of our bodies but we're also taking care of our minds as well."

Zucker also sees CPR certification as being a benefit for the entire Penn community — not just Penn athletes. 

"Getting a large part of the student body CPR-certified is really important because they'll be able to act if someone has a cardiac arrest on campus," Zucker said. "This initiative really can have a wide impact on the Penn community." 

Thanks to Zucker and Wieland's work, if a Penn student athlete collapses on the practice field, their teammates will now be ready to help.